Cases of wrongful death are being filed across the country after two devastating plane crashes. In March, a Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft crashed and killed all 157 of those on board of Flight 302. This is less than six months after Lion Air Flight 610 crashed into the Java Sea killing all of the 189 passengers. Defendants in these cases include Boeing, Ethiopian Airlines, and a parts manufacturer based in Delaware. One of the claims asserts that Boeing “put profits over safety” by failing to train pilots properly. Dennis Muilenburg, Boeing's CEO, publicly offered condolences to the many victims.
Chicago Federal Court Filing
A federal court in the Chicago area was where the family of Samya Stumo, a 24-year-old victim, was recently filed. Stumo, who was employed by ThinkWell, a health systems developer in Washington D.C., was traveling for work. The named defendants include Boeing and Rosemount Aerospace Inc., which is alleged to have manufactured a defective sensor that is believed to have contributed to the crash. The claim alleges that the defendants were negligent, breached a warranty, and failed to warn passengers of potential danger.
A claim was also filed separately against the Federal Aviation Administration. This claim contains allegations that Boeing was in a hurry to have the 737 Max 8 placed into service to keep up with the Airbus A320 aircraft that they are competing with. The allegations include that the defendants showed “conscious disregard for the lives of others”
Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS)
Boeing introduced MCAS technology that uses sensors to prevent the aircraft from stalling. Both crashes may be linked to the MCAS technology. The lawsuit filed by the Stumo family alleges that Boeing failed to retrain their pilots for flying the 737 Max 8 because it is quite similar to the previous 737 model aircraft. The MCAS system is intended to automatically operate and initial responses from the airlines suggest that training was not necessary.
Family Speaks Out
The Ethiopian Transport Ministry posted an initial report that stated the pilots for Flight 302 were simply unable to maintain control of the aircraft. The Stumo family hurriedly traveled to Ethiopia and was disappointed that Samya's remains were not recovered. Her great-uncle is Ralph Nader, a well-known consumer advocate. He reportedly described Samya as being filled with “compassion and intellectual rigor.” He went further to attest to her generosity and overall willingness to help others.
Meanwhile, other lawsuits have emerged in a Houston, Texas area court. Hassan Abdi filed a claim of wrongful death after his brother, 29-year-old Mucaad Abdalla, died in the first crash. The claim did not specify the number of damages that they are seeking. The consensus seems to be that the defendants unnecessarily risked the lives of passengers for business reasons. The claim made by Abdi states that punitive damages are appropriate in this case.
It is rather unusual that punitive damages are actually awarded in civil suits. These are damages imposed for the purpose of punishing defendants for actions that are extremely reckless. In order to justify punitive awards, it must be proven that a defendant acted with intent or malice. Clearly proving such allegations is typically very challenging.