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The Boeing 737 MAX: Fresh Controversy, and a Fresh Lawsuit

Posted on 02/19/24 by admin in Aviation Accidents

Aviophobia, that is to say; the fear of flying, is among the most commonly-held fears by the American public. Some studies suggest that as much as 40% of the population approaches a trip on an airplane with  anxiety. A recent near-catastrophe for one of the world’s biggest aircraft manufacturers will do little to alleviate the population’s concerns about the safety of air travel. You may have already seen viral videos from Alaska Airlines Flight 1282. Malloy Law would like to analyze the potential legal implications. We’ll be paying special attention to the Boeing 737, a company and aircraft whose name has become synonymous with dramatic and long-running litigation over the past decade. Let’s dig in.

boeing 737 max

Alaska Airlines Flight 1282

On January 5, 2024, an Alaska Airlines flight bound for Ontario, Canada departed Portland, Oregon. The flight carried 171 and 6 air crew passengers aboard a Boeing 737 MAX 9. Roughly six minutes after takeoff, the aircraft experienced uncontrolled decompression when the “door plug” (installed in place of an emergency exit door) blew out, leaving a large hole in the fuselage. In a stroke of good fortune, no passenger was seated in seat 26A, next to the faulty door plug. The aircraft quickly reversed course to make an emergency landing back at Portland. All 171 passengers and all 6 crew members survived the incident, though three passengers were treated for minor injuries. In addition, multiple passengers had personal items sucked out through the opening.

The Immediate Response and Early Conclusions

Alaska Airlines wasted no time in grounding their fleet of 65 737 MAX jets. However on January 6th, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) ordered the emergency grounding of all 737 MAX model planes with an installed door plug. By the 7th, the relevant authorities in the European Union had adopted the same grounding order. Private companies in Turkey and Indonesia had also grounded their fleets for inspection. This led to the cancellations of hundreds of flights.

The faulty door plug was located in a backyard in Oregon and turned over to the National Transportation Safety Board. NTSB has launched an investigation into the causes of the incident. While this investigation is ongoing at time of writing, early analysis has revealed that this door plug lacked four bolts meant to hold it in place. This implies an error in installation rather than a defect in the door plug itself. The jet in question had its door plug removed at a Boeing factory months before the incident. The plug was removed so contractors could make repairs and conduct maintenance elsewhere in the aircraft, it seems these bolts were not reinstalled after maintenance was complete.

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Lawsuits New and Old

On January 11th, a class action lawsuit was filed against Boeing. Six passengers of Alaska Airlines Flight 1282 cited injury and emotional trauma.

This incident is just the latest in a parade of high profile technical failures for the aviation giant. The Boeing 737 MAX series has been the previous subject of controversy after a pair of deadly crashes in Malaysia and Ethiopia in 2018 and 2019, respectively. Boeing paid over $2.5 billion in a settlement with the US Department of Justice and over $200 million in a second settlement with the US Securities and Exchange Commission. These settlements came after investigations revealed Boeing board members were aware of ongoing issues and design flaws with the 737 MAX series that led directly to the crashes. This downplaying of safety concerns was deemed fraud.

Liability, and Negligence

Now, for the layperson this may seem somewhat strange. Why was this lawsuit filed against Boeing, if Alaska Airlines was operating the aircraft? To explain that we have to understand liability and negligence. In legal terms, liability can be understood as a synonym for “responsibility.” If a person or larger group entity is held responsible for an incident which caused injury or death, we say they are “liable.” Often times this concept goes hand in hand with “negligence,” which is defined as a failure to take proper care.

So let’s apply these terms to the recently-filed lawsuits against Boeing. Alaska Airlines was certainly liable for the safety of its passengers. However, it would be a stretch to suggest their behavior was negligent. The flight crew themselves likely saved lives through their quick thinking and performance under pressure. Their employer behaved responsibly by grounding their 737 MAX fleet for inspection before even being order to do so, at great expense to themselves no less.

The early impressions given by the investigation seem to suggest that faulty maintenance and installation procedures were to blame. This maintenance (and all other duties related to the construction of the aircraft) were performed by Boeing. This makes them liable for the performance for their products. It could also potentially mean legal and financial penalties in the event that their conduct is deemed negligent.

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If You Are Involved in an Aviation Accident

We here at Malloy Law will be monitoring the ongoing NTSB investigation into possible misconduct by Boeing with great interest. It is also our hope that the unfortunate passengers of Alaska Airlines Flight 1282 are able to reach a just, prompt, and comprehensive settlement in their ongoing lawsuit. We also hope that travelers, pilots, and other aviation professionals are able to resume their regular service schedules in safety.

If you or a loved one has suffered injuries in an aviation accident, please contact us for a free consultation. During this trying time, our knowledgeable legal professionals will address your case, address your worries, and offer you the guidance you need. If you have experienced an aviation accident in Maryland, Virginia, or Washington, DC, Malloy Law Offices is prepared to support you in your quest for justice and recompense. You can rely on us to stand up for you at this trying time.