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Boeing Could Face Lawsuits from Families


As two crashes involving Boeing 737 MAX aircraft show similarities, legal experts said families of the victims have strong claims against the US company, even though such cases are usually against airlines, rather than a manufacturer.

The potential liability that Boeing faces includes a product defect claim from the flight-control software that disabled a pilot's ability to maintain the stability of the aircraft, and a negligence claim for failure to provide training for the pilots after the new software was introduced, Robert L. Rabin, a law professor at Stanford University, told China Daily on Wednesday.

Another legal claim may be negligence for failure to revise the software or to ground the planes temporarily after the first crash, which is critical to the second accident, said Rabin, an expert on accident law.

An Ethiopian Airlines 737 MAX flight crashed on March 10, killing all 157 people onboard. In October, a Lion Air 737 MAX flight crashed into the Java Sea, leaving 189 dead. Both crashes occurred minutes after takeoff.

The second accident increases Boeing's risk for liability because "the similarities to the first crash scenario provide circumstantial evidence of the deficiency in the software", said Rabin.

Based on various news articles about the suspect flight control system MCAS (Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System), a feature on Boeing 737 MAX aircraft intended to prevent stalls at low speed, Boeing certainly has huge exposure for damages to families of victims, said Douglas Moss, a pilot and aircraft certification expert, in an email.

"It appears that Boeing missed a few critical design requirements. If that is found to be the case, the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) may come down very hard on Boeing," said Moss, who owns aviation consultancy AeroPacific in Reno, Nevada.

"In fact, the FAA could assume that if there were so many missed requirements in the 737 MAX, what could Boeing have missed in the 777 X and 787 designs?" he said.

"Depending on how hard the FAA comes down on Boeing, it could shut down their whole plant for a very, very long time, which would be financially disastrous for Boeing," Moss said.

The FAA, however, is very "politically sensitive" — both to Congress and the public, said Moss. "No one knows where this is going to go, but it could be significant."

Boeing's potential legal liability depends on the findings of the investigation, because no specific facts have come out yet, said Mark A. Dombroff, an attorney with Alexandria, Virginia-based law firm LeClairRyan.

"We have reports of similarities, but until we have the facts associated with the recorders — the flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder — all that anybody is doing and engaging in is speculation," Dombroff told China Daily.

Read the full article in China Daily here.

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