Could Boeing Be Sued Over China Eastern Crash?

Posted on March 29, 2022 logo


By Amanda Bronstad | March 29, 2022

Image of Steven Marks
Steven C. Marks

Although the cause of this month’s crash of a China Eastern Airlines plane remains unknown, lawyers who previously sued over the 737 Max 8 said there are early signs of a possibly defective Boeing aircraft.

China Eastern Airlines Boeing 737-800. Credit: KITTIKUN YOKSAP/

Although the cause of this month’s crash of a China Eastern Airlines plane remains unknown, lawyers who previously sued over the 737 Max 8 said there are early signs of a possibly defective Boeing aircraft.

China Eastern Airlines Flight 5735 was headed from Kunming to Guangzhou on March 21 when it nosedived from 29,000 feet, crashing into the mountains of Southern China and killing all 132 people on board. Chinese investigators have located the aircraft’s black boxes but have made no conclusions about the cause of the crash.

No lawsuits have been filed against Boeing or China Eastern Airlines. Some plaintiffs lawyers, however, already are looking at Boeing, which settled hundreds of cases over two crashes in 2018 and 2019 involving its 737 Max 8 aircraft. Steven Marks, of Miami’s Podhurst Orseck, predicted claims against Boeing, unless the cockpit data recorder reveals new information about another cause, such as pilot suicide.

“With the very limited information that’s available right now, unless there’s some positive proof that the pilots induced this maneuver, which is hard to imagine, there was some catastrophic failure of the tail section,” Marks said. “There had to have been some serious mechanical malfunction to have the aircraft go straight down like this one did.”

In a statement on Saturday, Boeing said: “We extend our deepest condolences for the loss of those on board China Eastern Airlines Flight MU 5735. Our thoughts and prayers are with the passengers and crew, their families and all those affected by this accident. Boeing will continue to support our airline customer during this difficult time. In addition, a Boeing technical team is supporting the [National Transportation Safety Board] and the Civil Aviation Administration of China who will lead the investigation.”

Investigators have said that the aircraft took a sudden dive after reaching a cruising altitude, climbed briefly, and then plummeted straight to the ground. China Eastern Airlines immediately grounded its fleet of Boeing 737-800 aircraft.

The 737-800 is the “workhorse” of Boeing’s product line, lawyers said. The airline’s grounding was “extremely unusual,” said Kevin Durkin, of Chicago’s Clifford Law Offices.

“What speaks to me is maybe the airline just doesn’t trust Boeing,” he said. “So, this is their reaction: to be cautious, maybe overly cautious.”

Although the aircraft has a long record of safety, previous crashes in Colorado and Pennsylvania with the same “flight profile” involving an earlier Boeing 737 aircraft focused on defects in the tail rudder, Marks said.

Steven Marks of Podhurst Orseck.

“The only way you have this kind of longitudinal change in the aircraft, where it’s descending so rapidly, is you’re going to lose the vertical fin or the components that keep the aircraft going up and down,” he said.

Some lawyers pointed to a 4-foot-long piece of debris found more than six miles from the crash site as potential evidence of a “catastrophic event” that occurred on the plane. Ron Goldman, of Los Angeles-based Baum Hedlund Aristei & Goldman, said the part could have been a horizontal stabilizer or part of the wing, something that gave the aircraft lift.

“The possibility of mounting a case against Boeing grows when we find that there was some part that might have come off, if that turns out to be true,” he said. “That may well suggest this is another in a line of manufacturing or design defects that has plagued the Boeing’s fleet.”

But it could also mean faulty maintenance and inspection, which he called “high on the list of suspicion.”
“There are so many ways maintenance can cause a disaster, but if this part that was found six miles away came from this airplane, it would be possible they missed or didn’t perform inspections that were necessary that would have been designed to detect corrosion or some other anomaly that should have been detected during a maintenance event,” he said.

And that might also explain the sudden grounding of the China Eastern fleet.
“If they had a program of skipping some inspections, and then they get this event, that would say, ‘Oh, my God, what did we do?’” Goldman said.

He also said the crash doesn’t have the characteristics of the pilot deliberately flying the plane into the ground, but that remains a “big question mark.”

Shanin Specter, of Philadelphia’s Kline & Specter, said it’s much too soon to determine whether Boeing bears the blame for the crash.

“It could literally be anything,” he said. “There’s nothing that indicates it was Boeing’s fault. We just don’t know.”

Copyright 2022. ALM Global, LLC. All Rights Reserved.