U.S aircraft manufacturer Boeing is facing its first liability lawsuit from the family of a victim of the March 10 Ethiopian Airlines crash, which resulted in the death of all 157 passengers.
The lawsuit was filed in Chicago federal court by the family of Jackson Musoni, a citizen of Rwanda, and alleges that Boeing had defectively designed the automated flight control system on the 737 Max 8 aircraft that was involved in the incident.
Boeing temporarily suspended its entire fleet of 737 Max aircraft following the Ethiopian Airlines crash, which was the second to involve the model in just five months.
The company faced dozens of lawsuits resulting from the Lion Air crash in Indonesia last October, which also resulted in the deaths of all 189 passengers and crew on board.
In both cases, the planes showed similar flight patterns before crashing, and investigators believe that an anti-stall system on the Boeing 737 Max model may have forced the nose of the aircraft to lower erroneously.
Boeing said recently that it had now reprogrammed the software to prevent it from triggering falsely, and to trigger only once after sensing a problem to give pilots more control.
Following the suspension of the 737 Max globally, the U.S government has begun a criminal investigation, while the U.S department of transportation is probing the regulator Federal Aviation Administration with respect to the certification of the model.
If Boeing is found to be at fault, Willis Re has suggested that the Ethiopian Airlines crash could potentially be the largest ever non-war claim incurred by the aviation reinsurance market, with total losses of around $1 billion.
Currently, reinsurers Munich Re, Swiss Re, Hannover Re and GIC Re have been confirmed as facing potential exposure to the crash, with costs ranging between €10 million for Hannover Re and up to €120 million for Munich Re.
Chubb and Willis Towers Watson have been confirmed as the lead insurer and broker for Ethiopian Airlines, respectively, and Global Aerospace is the lead insurer for Boeing alongside broker Marsh.
Some legal experts have also suggested that the crash of the jet in Ethiopia raised the chances that families of the victims, even non-U.S residents, will be able to sue in U.S courts, were payouts are generally much larger than in other countries.
“This is clearly a Boeing safety issue and all the relevant information concerning that safety issue is in the US,” says Daniel Rose, a partner at law firm Kreindler & Kreindler told Quartz Africa.
He reported that his firm had so far been contacted by families of the Ethiopian crash in Kenya, Ethiopia, Italy, Israel and the U.S.
Additionally, with two crashes now involving new Boeing models, Rose said “the intervening five months is the critical time period when safety decisions were made and that is what makes ET 302 a stronger claim, especially for non-US families.”
Lawyers have noted that Ethiopian Airlines could be liable to pay a deceased’s family up to $157,000 without any proof of fault on its part under the Montreal Convention for victim compensation.
However, compensation will depend on individual circumstances, and Rose told Quartz Africa that payments could reach as much as $10 million if the deceased was a significant earner and supporting a family.