Ever since the crash last year of a Boeing 737 Max owned by Ethiopian Airlines, lawyers representing the families of victims have been seeking internal documents from Boeing about why the plane was still in the air. The Ethiopian Airlines crash, which killed 157 people, occurred five months after another 737 Max, this one owned by Lion Air, crashed and killed 189 people.
The lawyers want these documents to gain insight into what Boeing knew about the cause of the Lion Air crash. Multiple investigations are ongoing, but it appears both crashes involved a software defect combined with training issues.
If Boeing knew that the Lion Air crash was caused in part by a defect, it may have been in a position to prevent the Ethiopian Airlines crash. If it was and failed to do so, it could be assessed punitive damages, which are meant to punish wrongdoing.
All Boeing 737 Max airplanes have been grounded since last March, after the second crash.
Boeing unsure whether it can release all relevant documents
According to Boeing, the documents are confidential and currently restricted by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), which is investigating the crashes. However, the NTSB has apparently equivocated over whether the documents could be released.
Now, Boeing has agreed to hold a conference call with victims’ lawyers and the NTSB’s assistant general counsel about whether the documents could legally be turned over. Once the call is finished, the parties will brief the court on whether the documents ought to be turned over.
The families of the Ethiopian Airlines crash seek to find out whether Boeing has hidden documents that could demonstrate it was responsible for the crash, or for both crashes.
An attorney for Boeing said that no documents have been hidden but that some “haven’t been produced yet.”
“Boeing takes very seriously its legal obligations and is working with the plaintiffs in good faith, and consistent with our obligations as a technical advisor to the NTSB, to provide the information they need to pursue their claims,” the company said in a statement. It added that it was fully cooperating with the authorities investigating the crashes.
A Lion Air investigation determined that its crash was partly caused by the 737 Max’s design defect and partly by airline mistakes. Boeing is in the process of settling claims from the Lion Air crash. The victims’ families in the Ethiopian Airlines crash are seeking a jury trial.