US Lawyers Aim to Profit in Malaysia Airlines Tragedy

PHOTO: Malaysias acting Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein, center, comforts a relative of passengers on board the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 at a hotel in Putrajaya, Malaysia, Saturday March 29, 2014.
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In the midst of their anguish and grief, some families of the passengers aboard missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 say they are being besieged by high stakes versions of ambulance chasers -- American lawyers looking for clients.

"That is piling insult onto injury and this is just not acceptable,” said Sarah Bajc, girlfriend of American passenger Philip Wood.

Among the U.S. lawyers who have already shown up in Malaysia are members of Ribbeck Law of Chicago, led by Monica Ribbeck Kelly. At a quickly staged news conference, the firm’s lawyers discussed multi-million dollar lawsuits against Boeing, the maker of the aircraft that disappeared, even before anyone has figured out what actually happened to the plane.

According to two grief counselors, the Ribbeck firm has been aggressively distributing cards and brochures in Chinese to family members, a practice that legal experts say would not be legal in the U.S. in order to protect families at a vulnerable time. One of the brochures includes the claim that it is quite common for families of victims to receive “millions or even tens of millions of dollars” from lawsuits.

Caesar Sun, a volunteer grief counselor in Beijing, told ABC News about the experience of one family member.

"He told me that a lawyer came to him and said, 'You can get a million dollars if the plane was confirmed as crashed. And you have to let us do it... Sign something so we can do it for you,'" Sun said.

The Ribbeck firm lists its address in a Chicago high-rise, but the offices appear to be empty, supposedly being remodeled, as first reported by The Chicago Tribune.

Kelly denied that any of her lawyers had contacted families directly and said that while her firm had signed up dozens of families, all of them had asked her to represent them.

"It's up to the families," Kelly told ABC News. "It is ethical and moral."

At a Ribbeck Law press conference in Kuala Lumpur last month, Kelly said “In many of these crashes, we have no wreckage and we have no black boxes… and in many cases we have black boxes that cannot be read. So we cannot wait for them to find the wreckage or find the black boxes because the litigation can start without it.”

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Christine Negroni, author of "Deadly Departure," is a freelance reporter contributing to ABC News.

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