Boeing Co., Ethiopian Airlines and aircraft-sensor maker Rosemount Aerospace Inc. were sued in the U.S. for alleged negligence in connection with a plane crash last month that killed 157 people and intensified concern about the safety of 737 Max passenger jets.
The suit filed Thursday in Chicago federal court on behalf of an American citizen who was on the doomed Ethiopian Airlines flight March 10 joins a growing pile of complaints against Boeing, as well as a criminal probe, after two 737 Max planes crashed within five months. The plaintiffs also said they will file an administrative claim against the Federal Aviation Administration.
The parents of Samya Stumo, 24, alleged Boeing was “blinded by its greed” and rushed the 737 Max 8 to market with the “knowledge and tacit approval” of the FAA, while hiding defects in its automated flight-control system. The suit also cites a similar flaw in the Lion Air flight of a 737 Max 8 jet that crashed into the Java Sea on Oct. 29, killing 189.
Earlier on Thursday, the Ethiopian transport minister called on Boeing to review the 737 Max flight-control system before allowing planes to be used, after a preliminary government report showing the doomed jetliner couldn’t recover from an uncommanded and persistent nose dive shortly after takeoff.
The complaint alleges that decisions by Boeing leaders contributed to the crash and “demonstrate Boeing’s conscious disregard for the lives of others,” including designing an aircraft with a flight-control system that is “susceptible to catastrophic failure” in the event of a single defective sensor made by Rosemount Aerospace.
Boeing didn’t immediately respond to an email seeking comment.
Stumo, originally from Sheffield, Massachusetts, was traveling in Africa as part of her job with ThinkWell, a health-systems development organization, according to a press release from her family’s attorneys. Her parents, Michael Stumo and Nadia Milleron, also are also planning to file an administrative claim against the FAA, their attorneys said.
Samya Stumo is the grandniece of consumer activist Ralph Nader, who refers to her simply as his niece, according to a spokesman for her family’s attorneys. Nadar became famous in the 1960s for skewering the U.S. Federal Trade Commission over the regulator’s shortcomings in policing serious safety problems in the auto industry.
Boeing, the leading U.S. aerospace manufacturer, and the FAA, its principal regulator, have come under intense scrutiny in recent weeks over claims their relationship is too cozy. The FAA is responsible for regulating aviation in the U.S. and operating the nation’s air traffic control system.
“Sadly, these two entirely preventable airline crashes demonstrate that the FAA is ill-equipped to oversee the aerospace industry and will downplay serious hazards and safety risks to the public rather than sound the alarm about safety concerns, problems, issues and hazards that pose substantial, probable, and/or foreseeable risks to human life,” attorneys for Stumo said in the lawsuit. “Boeing, and the regulators that enabled it, must be held accountable for their reckless actions.”
The chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee said this week that whistleblowers have come forward to report that FAA safety inspectors, including those involved with approvals for the 737 Max, lacked proper training and certifications. Senator Roger Wicker, a Mississippi Republican, said those claims prompted him to investigate potential connections between training and certification shortcomings and the FAA’s evaluation of the airliner.
The Senate panel’s probe is the latest in a string of investigations by U.S. officials and lawmakers into how the FAA cleared the 737 Max as safe to fly. The Transportation Department’s inspector general is reviewing the FAA’s process for approving the airworthiness of new jets and aiding a Justice Department criminal probe.
A grand jury convened by U.S. prosecutors last month subpoenaed a former Boeing engineer demanding he provide testimony and documents related to the 737 Max.
FAA Acting Administrator Dan Elwell has said the agency “welcomes external review of our systems, processes and recommendations.”
Boeing faces the prospect of substantial payouts to the families of passengers if it’s found responsible for both the Ethiopia Air and Lion Air crashes. But legal experts have said the second disaster could prove even more damaging for the company. That’s because plaintiffs will argue the manufacturer was put on notice by the earlier tragedy that there was something dangerously wrong with its planes that should have been fixed.
The case is Stumo v. Boeing, 19-cv-2281, U.S. District Court, Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division (Chicago).
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