London, Feb. 17: A group of lawyers is suing those running the American tsunami warning system for negligence on behalf of 14 Austrian and five German victims of the disaster in what is believed to be the first legal case of its kind in the world.
However, a leading British compensation lawyer, Geraldine McCool, told The Telegraph that she doubted whether the American warning system could be held responsible for having a 'duty of care' towards tsunami victims.
The case is bound to stir interest worldwide because many have repeatedly asked: 'The Americans knew killer waves were on the way. Why didn't they do more'
Whether it would be possible to extrapolate from this point to successful compensation claims remains to be seen. But some important legal principles may be established.
The case is being lodged by three lawyers, Ed Fagan, an American, and two Austrians.
At a press conference in Vienna, they announced that the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Hawaii, the Thai government and the French-owned Accor hotel chain should be held accountable for lapses in dealing with the disaster.
The lawsuit will be filed this week at a New York court, presumably because America is much more sympathetic towards a compensation culture and 'no win, no fee' action.
The lawyers said the suit is intended to prove that the massive death toll in Asia was caused by negligence.
The lawyers accused the American tsunami warning system of having failed to act on registering the earthquake; the government of Thailand for failing to put out an advance warning despite knowledge of the impending disaster; and Accor, the parent company of the Sofitel Hotel in Thailand's Khao Lak resort, for insufficient safety measures.
According to McCool, legal precedent is not very encouraging for the victims. McCool is something of a heroine figure who is a role model for women lawyers. She has represented families of air crash victims in the past and still does so, taking on such powerful adversaries as Britain's ministry of defence (which is having to deal with an ever growing casualty toll in Iraq).
McCool says that in the end it all comes down to who is responsible for what ' in legal jargon who has responsibility for 'duty of care' and over whom.
She says a hotel definitely has a duty of care for its guests on such issues as lighting and access by the disabled. But whether a hotel should be expected to withstand the savage ferocity of a tsunami is another matter.
'It would be interesting to look at the cost of fortifications,' said McCool.