Two Ontario men who each lost several family members in the Ethiopian Airlines disaster have filed wrongful-death lawsuits against Boeing Co.
The plaintiffs allege the U.S. plane manufacturer rushed its Max jet program into production in a race against long-time European competitor Airbus SE. The two men are seeking compensation for general and exemplary damages to be determined by the court.
A Boeing 737 Max 8 operated by Ethiopian Airlines crashed on March 10 shortly after takeoff from Addis Ababa bound for Nairobi, killing 157 people. Last October, 189 people died when a Max 8 flown by Lion Air of Indonesia plunged into the Java Sea soon after taking off from Jakarta on a short-haul flight.
A group of American lawyers said Monday they represent the families of 10 of the 18 Canadians killed on Ethiopian Flight ET302 in March. The complaints were filed on behalf of Manant Vaidya of Brampton and Paul Njoroge of Hamilton.
“Blinded by its greed, Boeing haphazardly rushed the 737 Max 8 to market, with the knowledge and tacit approval of the United States Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), while Boeing actively concealed the nature of the automated system defects,” read the complaints filed in U.S. District Court in Chicago.
“Since the design of an entirely new jet would take too long, Boeing decided to create a more fuel-efficient alternative to its traditional 737NG aircraft – what would become the 737 Max 8.”
Boeing did not immediately respond to inquiries on the lawsuits.
Mr. Vaidya’s parents, sister, brother-in-law and two nieces were killed in the crash.
“I still cry and my wife, Hiral, still cries when we think of the horror of the last moments of our loved ones’ lives,” Mr. Vaidya said during an emotional news conference webcast from Chicago.
Mr. Njoroge’s wife and their three children were among the passengers who died in the disaster.
“I was not there to help them. I couldn’t save them,” a sobbing Mr. Njoroge said. “It was up to Boeing and the others in charge to save them. We paid for a safe flight. Instead, my family and others in that plane have suffered a profound loss that can never be mended.”
The lawsuits said that while Boeing is now updating software for Max jets, the plane maker “chose not to do so during design and certification to save whatever time and money it could” and “regulators finally decided to ground the 737 Max 8 aircraft in the wake of the Flight 302 crash.”
Lawyers for Mr. Vaidya and Mr. Njoroge filed separate claims against the FAA. The FAA said it does not comment on litigation.
The company held its annual meeting earlier in the day at the Field Museum in Chicago. Boeing chief executive officer Dennis Muilenburg defended the Max program during a news conference on Monday.
“We followed exactly the steps in our design and certification processes that consistently produce safe airplanes,” he said. “Through the work we are doing now in partnership with our customers and regulators to certify and implement the software update, the 737 Max will be one of the safest airplanes ever to fly.”
The FAA said in a statement that “all participants are committed to a single safety mission, and will not rest where aviation’s safety record is concerned.”
Fuelled by orders from Air Canada, WestJet Airlines Ltd. and other carriers, the 737 Max is the fastest-selling aircraft in Boeing's history, with more than 5,000 orders from some 100 customers.
Out of those total orders, more than 370 Max planes had already been delivered to airlines around the world by early March. So far, 41 Max 8s have been delivered to Canadian carriers: Air Canada (24), WestJet (13) and Sunwing Airlines Inc. (four).
The lawsuits allege that Boeing initially dismissed the competitive threat posed by the Airbus A320neo narrow-body aircraft, which began test flights in 2014.
“Boeing’s tune changed when it learned that some of its key customers, including American Airlines, would be placing orders with Airbus for their fuel-efficient aircraft. This ratcheted up pressure on Boeing to respond,” according to the complaints.
Rosemount Aerospace Inc. of Minnesota is also named in the lawsuits. “Rosemount is, and at all relevant times was, in the business of designing, manufacturing, assembling, distributing, marketing and supplying sensors used in Boeing’s aircraft.”
Rosemount did not immediately respond to inquiries on the lawsuits.