By Linda Chiem
Law360 (April 16, 2019, 5:07 PM EDT) — Twenty-five lawsuits against Boeing filed by the families of victims of October’s Lion Air crash in Indonesia were consolidated in Illinois federal court Tuesday as the U.S. plane maker faces growing litigation over alleged defects in its 737 MAX jets.
U.S. District Judge Thomas M. Durkin issued an order saying he’ll oversee an additional 25 lawsuits from certain families of the victims of Lion Air Flight 610, which crashed into the Java Sea minutes after taking off from Jakarta en route to Pangkal Pinang in Indonesia. The Oct. 29 crash killed 189 people.
The 25 suits join six other suits that Judge Durkin already consolidated last month, with the lead case now known as In re: Lion Air Flight JT 610 Crash. The victims’ families allege in the suits that the Boeing Co. negligently designed and manufactured “defective” and “unreasonably dangerous” 737 MAX 8 jets, its newest and most popular line of jets.
Boeing’s 737 MAX 8 aircraft was involved in both the Lion Air crash and the recent March 10 crash of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 that killed 157 people. The planes have been grounded globally since last month and Boeing is facing numerous lawsuits from the families of victims from both crashes.
Courts routinely consolidate victims’ lawsuits stemming from major aviation and other transportation accidents. Boeing is based in Chicago, which is why the suits are playing out in Illinois federal court.
Steven C. Marks of Podhurst Orseck PA, who is representing families in five suits that were part of Tuesday’s consolidation order, said that such cases are customarily consolidated for liability purposes and common discovery.
“The judge is simply following the most efficient and prudent methods that are appropriate for this kind of matter,” Marks said. “The damages, of course, are unique and different and so at the appropriate time, the court will address the procedures dealing with those issues. … We agree that this is the best method and the most efficient way to effectively handle these cases.”
Floyd Wisner of Wisner Law Firm PC, whose firm was among the first to sue Boeing over the Lion Air crash in Illinois federal court in November, also said Tuesday that the order is “procedural, but it has to be done.”
Many of the lawsuits fault Boeing for installing angle of attack sensors on the plane that reported inaccurate data to the flight control system, which then activated the 737 MAX 8’s new anti-stall system and forced the plane into a nosedive.
Preliminary findings from aviation authorities and accident investigators in Indonesia and Ethiopia have implicated the anti-stall system — known as the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System — as a likely contributor to both crashes.
Boeing earlier this month acknowledged the apparent role of the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System in both crashes, saying it will slow down production of the planes while it continues to work on a software update to correct the errors related to the anti-stall system.
“We now know that the recent Lion Air Flight 610 and Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 accidents were caused by a chain of events, with a common chain link being erroneous activation of the aircraft’s MCAS function,” Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg said in a statement April 5. “We have the responsibility to eliminate this risk, and we know how to do it.”
Meanwhile, congressional leaders, a government watchdog and federal prosecutors are investigating whether there were any oversight lapses in the Federal Aviation Administration’s aircraft certification process, in addition to whistleblower claims that FAA safety inspectors weren’t sufficiently trained to evaluate and approve the 737 MAX 8.
Boeing declined to comment on the litigation on Tuesday.
“Boeing extends our heartfelt condolences and sympathies to the families and loved ones of those onboard Lion Air Flight 610,” the company said in a statement. “As the investigation continues, Boeing is cooperating fully with the investigating authorities.”
The Lion Air victims’ families are represented by Wisner Law Firm PC, Corboy & Demetrio PC, Nolan Law Group, Hays Firm LLC, Podhurst Orseck PA, BartlettChen LLC, Ribbeck Law Chartered, Gardiner Koch Weisberg & Wrona, Hart McLaughlin & Eldridge, Kabateck LLP and Sanjiv N. Singh APLC.
Boeing is represented by Bates McIntyre Larson, Daniel T. Burley, Mack H. Shultz Jr. and Gretchen M. Paine of Perkins Coie LLP
The lead case is In re: Lion Air Flight JT 610 Crash, case number 1:18-cv-07686, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.
–Editing by Abbie Sarfo