The lawyer representing families of victims of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 wants Boeing Co and the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration to hand over documents about the decision to keep the Boeing 737 MAX in the air after a deadly Lion Air crash last October.
A week after Lion Air Flight 610 nose-dived into the Java Sea, killing all 189 aboard, the FAA warned airlines that erroneous inputs from an automated flight control system’s sensors could lead the jet to automatically pitch its nose down, but the agency allowed the jets to continue flying.
Five months later, the same system was blamed for playing a role when ET302 crashed on March 10, killing all 157 passengers and crew and prompting a worldwide grounding of the 737 MAX that remains in place.
“The decisions to keep those planes in service are key,” Robert Clifford of Clifford Law Offices, which represents families of the Ethiopian crash victims, said at a status hearing before U.S. Judge Jorge Alonso in Chicago.
The FAA said it does not comment on litigation. The agency has defended its decision not to ground the 737 MAX sooner and has said it is following a thorough process for returning the jet to passenger service.
Nearly 100 lawsuits have been filed against Boeing by at least a dozen law firms representing families of the Ethiopian Airlines crash victims, who came from 35 different countries, including nine U.S. citizens and 19 Canadians.
However, families of about 60 victims have yet to file lawsuits but plaintiffs’ lawyers said they anticipate more to come. Most of the lawsuits do not make a specific dollar claim, though Ribbeck Law Chartered has said its clients are seeking more than $1 billion.
The lawsuits emphasize that Boeing defectively designed the automated flight control system. The system is believed to have repeatedly forced the nosedive in both accidents.
Boeing declined to comment on the lawsuit directly but said it is cooperating fully with the investigating authorities. The manufacturer has apologized for the lives lost in both crashes and is upgrading software. But it has stopped short of admitting any fault in how it developed the 737 MAX, or the software.
Clifford, who was appointed lead counsel on Tuesday to represent the majority of plaintiffs suing Boeing over the Ethiopian Airlines crash, said he would pursue two tracks in the case: one for clients who wish to settle with Boeing and another for those who want to push for discovery.