The Beasley Allen Law Firm filed a lawsuit against Boeing on behalf of Sara Yakob, the widow of Getnet Alemayehu, a passenger killed during the March 10 crash of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302. The lawsuit alleges Boeing designed a dangerously defective aircraft, coerced regulators into approving it, and deceived the public about its safety. The family is represented by Beasley Allen’s Mike Andrews, who focuses much of his practice on complex aviation litigation, along with Adam Ramji of the Ramji Law Group in Houston, Texas.
In April, Andrews rode several hours to the 45-foot crater – large enough to hold a three-story building – in Tulu Fara village near Bishoftu, Ethiopia. He described how only fragments remain of the massive malfunctioning plane and the personal belongings of the 157 people the aircraft throttled into the ground at nearly 600 miles per hour. An armed guard escorted Andrews up to the perimeter of the horrific crater where he collected some of the aircraft’s fragments for later inspection.
“Visiting the site of a crash was surreal,” said Andrews. “Seeing the personal items that had been carefully packed away for travel just weeks earlier lay strewn on the ground and mangled together with pieces from the aircraft was overwhelming, especially when we know this crash did not have to happen. We expect Boeing will not comment on this lawsuit, which is fitting since there really is no appropriate response for the company’s callous disregard for human life.”
During his first and second visits to Ethiopia since the tragic crash, Andrews talked with those who have been investigating it since day one, including Ethiopian Transport Minister Dagmawit Moges. Minister Moges released the country’s preliminary report of the ongoing investigation into the flight in early April. The report found that the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) flight control system was malfunctioning just before the aircraft crashed. It was similar to the pattern experienced by the aircraft involved in the Lion Air Flight 610 crash in Indonesia last October. Both aircraft also experienced repetitive uncommanded aircraft nose-down events.
Andrews has handled his share of complex aviation cases, including several that have taken on the U.S. government on behalf of families of U.S. military personnel. He says it is never easy to watch as a client pieces together the final moments of a loved one’s life, but it is necessary to help them find justice.
Alemayehu was traveling with three of his colleagues from Catholic Relief Services (CRS), and they were en route to CRS training in Nairobi, Kenya. Alemayehu had worked for CRS since 2009, serving as procurement officer, senior procurement officer in the Administration Department, and most recently as senior project officer in the organization’s Procurement & Compliance office. Alemayehu also leaves behind a daughter.
“The 346 lives that were sacrificed on the two doomed Boeing MAX flights will never return home, and they didn’t have a chance to survive despite pilots’ brave efforts. But Boeing had numerous chances to make the aircraft safer, and time and again, it chose to protect its bottom line rather than the air travelers who trusted the company. They deserve justice by holding Boeing accountable,” Andrews said.
The lawsuit is filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division.
Background on the Boeing crashes
The 737 MAX was grounded worldwide shortly after the Ethiopian Airlines crash and will remain grounded until U.S. regulators and those in other countries have approved a fix for the aircraft. Reports show that Boeing was aware of the problems with its 737 redesign and the flawed MCAS, but during the certification process, it submitted false data and information about the new system in “self-certifying” reports to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which is charged with, among other things, regulating the safety of aircraft in the U.S. The MCAS was designed to be hidden and separate from the autopilot system. Its purpose was to automatically adjust the horizontal tail stabilizer and cause the nose to push downward whenever the system sensed the plane was continuing to climb. Although the MCAS should have only operated when it sensed an imminent stall, the system is flawed and attempts to push the 737 nose downward when it should not. When pilots react to the sudden downward motion of the aircraft and pull up on the flight controls, the MCAS again falsely senses a nose-up problem and pushes the nose down again. The result of the tug-of-war between the pilot and the flawed MCAS is an undulating flight path that causes the plane to lose altitude and airspeed until it crashes.
Scrutiny of the MCAS has also raised questions about the process used by the FAA in approving the system. Global regulators, aviation experts, law and policymakers, and other leaders worldwide have questioned whether industry insiders, such as Boeing, had too much influence over the process that ultimately placed the defectively designed planes in the air and loaded them with unsuspecting air travelers.
Currently, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Office of Inspector General and the U.S. Department of Justice’s Criminal Division are conducting a criminal probe of Boeing and the process used to approve the MAX aircraft. The U.S. Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee has also launched an investigation regarding whistleblower allegations that the FAA did not handle the certification of the 737 MAX 8 properly.
Further, since the Ethiopian Airlines crash, Boeing has admitted that for more than a year after the 737 MAX had been in service, it kept quiet about the fact that two critical safety features were not performing as airlines would have expected. More than a month after the Ethiopian Airlines crash, Boeing was finally pressured into admitting the company, and the FAA allegedly missed a glitch in the software that operates the MCAS in connection with the Angle of Attack (AOA) sensors, how the information is communicated – or not – to pilots through the AOA indicator with the disagree light serving as a warning. Investigators have also learned that while Boeing knew about the defective warning light in 2017 and that it originally decided to delay fixing it for three years. Boeing only moved up the timeline for the fix after the Lion Air crash.
Boeing submitted the plan for the “fix” to the FAA in May and is awaiting approval. As the investigations continue unfolding, however, it appears the “fix” may not be enough to fully address the dangers posed by the aircraft’s faulty rehashed design.
Mike Andrews, a lawyer in the firm’s Personal Injury and Products Liability section, focuses much of his practice on aviation accident litigation. He has represented people seriously injured in aviation crashes and the families of those killed in both civilian and military airplane crashes and helicopter crashes. Mike is representing families of Ethiopian Airlines crash victims and is investigating both deadly Boeing crashes on behalf of families. He also has written a book on the subject to assist other aviation lawyers, “Aviation Litigation & Accident Investigation.” The book offers an overview to the practitioner about the complexities of aviation crash investigation and litigation.