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FRANKFURT: A German court on Thursday threw out a lawsuit by Pakistani plaintiffs against clothing retailer KiK over a deadly 2012 fire at a Karachi garment factory, saying the statute of limitations had expired.

The blaze at the factory in Baldia, Karachi, left 258 people dead in one of Pakistan’s worst industrial disasters.

A survivor and three relatives of victims of the tragic incident had sought damages for pain and suffering from KiK of 30,000 euros ($34,600) each.

They argued that, although KiK did not cause the fire, it shared blame for a lack of safety measures at the factory, reported AFP news agency.

But a spokesman for the regional court in Dortmund said judges agreed with a court-appointed expert’s finding that the civil suit was not filed within the applicable two-year period.

According to AFP, the European Centre for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR), a Berlin-based rights group supporting the plaintiffs, said it was considering appealing the ruling.

Workers’ rights group says victims have the option of asking the court to review its order

“KiK was the factory’s main customer and therefore bears some of the responsibility for the inadequate fire safety measures,” lawyer Remo Klinger, who represented the plaintiffs, said in a statement.

KiK, which has paid over $6 million in compensation to survivors and victims’ families, has rejected liability for the fatal fire.

“KiK evades the legal responsibility for the death of 258 people, but at least a German court was willing to look into the case in the first place,” said claimant Saeeda Khatoon, whose son died in the inferno.

A lack of emergency exits, fire extinguishers and clearly marked escape routes contributed to the fire’s heavy toll, according to experts cited by the ECCHR.

Several men are currently on trial in Pakistan for allegedly starting the blaze. They are suspected of being part of a criminal gang that was extorting the factory’s owners.

Naeem Sahoutara in Karachi adds: A workers’ rights group said there was still hope for the victims and survivors of the incident to pursue their case for “additional lifelong compensation” from KiK because their lawsuit was dismissed on technical grounds instead of merits of the case.

“I just spoke to our lawyers in Germany, who said that the lawsuit has been dismissed for being time-barred and not on the merits of the case,” said Nasir Mansoor, the deputy general secretary of the National Trade Union Federation.

Mansoor’s organisation had helped the four plaintiffs in engaging a lawyer in Germany to file and plead their lawsuit for additional compensation.

He said the lawsuit was filed after a delay of around one year because the victims and their families were negotiating with KiK for the payment of the main, one-time compensation of $1m, which was paid to them. “The foreign company had promised to pay additional lifelong monthly compensation to them and assured that they would not raise the issue of delay in filing the case,” he said.

However, he deplored that after paying the one-time compensation KiK backtracked on its second promise and during a hearing in November agitated the issue of delay in filing of the lawsuit after keeping the victims engaged in talks and wasting their time.

“Our case is very strong because we’ve worked hard. That’s the reason KiK was scared of being held responsible to pay the extra lifelong compensation to the victims and their families in Pakistan,” said Mansoor.

The trade union leader said the plaintiffs still had the option to approach the court to seek a review of its order, as the merits of the case have not been examined yet.

Advocate Faisal Siddiqui, who has been representing the victims in the trial court as well as the Sindh High Court, agreed with Mansoor’s contention.

Published in Dawn, January 11th, 2019

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