If a Lawsuit Files in the Woods

In the fraught aftermath of the downing of MH17 – culpability still pointing toward the Russian-led separatists as much as it ever has – talk first cropped up of a potential pecuniary award for those who had lost loved ones in the crash. If those guilty couldn’t be hauled in front of a judge and jury, it was thought, there could at least come some financial recompense.

The first poke at a potential lawsuit came in the crash’s immediate aftermath. As The Telegraph reported just nine days after an explosion shattered the lives of 298 innocents, “Vladimir Putin is facing a multi-million-pound legal action for his alleged role in the shooting down [of MH17].” Centered on a McCue and Partners’ coming class action suit, set to be pushed through the American court system, the paper added that a handful of senior Russian officials could also end up involved in the litigation. (McCue and Partners, based out of London, had previously brought suit against Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi.) Grieving families would be invited to join, soon after the lawyers in question returned from their trip to Ukraine. The Independent stood a bit further from certainty, deeming the lawsuit “potential,” but added that “Western politicians have no power to prevent [it].”

Nearly two months later, however, there’s been nothing but silence surrounding the suit. No coverage. No commentary. No filing seemingly imminent, as attention cements in a ceasefire, as sanctions ratchet. Nothing.

Of course, it’s perhaps too early to write off the lawsuit as little more than a ploy of sentiment, or as a cloying attempt at public attention. These things take time; there’s no reason McCue’s machinery may not still be at work.

Unfortunately, with each passing day, a decreasing likelihood of seeing the lawsuit also comes. The rumors of late July look more like white noise than on-the-ground reality. And now we have another lawsuit that could follow the same pattern.

As the Associated Press reported earlier this week, “German relatives of three people killed in the downing of [MH17] plan to sue Ukraine for negligence”, citing Kyiv’s choice not to close airspace surrounding the fighting in the east. News of this pending lawsuit stemmed from a German weekly, noting that a lawyer named Elmar Giemulla – “a Berlin-based specialist in aviation law” – was looking to the European Court of Human Rights for nearly $1.3 million in compensation for a trio of affected families. Giemulla noted that he may later sue Russia “if sufficient facts are uncovered to prove its involvement” – and that such facts were “dependent on the support of Western governments,” for some reason left unexplained.

Giemulla’s academic credentials are as well-wrought as anyone with aviation, it appears – and he’s no problem crafting an online, if hokey, presence that shares all of his accomplishments. The man would seem to stand as a perfect candidate to lead a lawsuit of this nature.

Still, as with McCue, the lawsuit remains pending, and has yet to be filed. No litigation has yet come forth. All we have is talk.

However, this reality – this lack of an actual lawsuit, on either front – seems obscured by the sensationalism that can accompany a filing of this magnitude. The figures, the factors, the faults at hand – the details, and the rumor-mongering, have thus far outweighed the reality that no lawsuit has yet come forth, and none seem imminent. It’s fine to prattle on about potentials and what-could-be’s. But the mulling, the rumoring, and the scattering of further static in an investigation already with more questions than answers – not necessarily necessary. Let’s hold off until any litigation actually comes forth, so we can try to keep the focus on the unknowns we already have.