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MAX jet-crash victims' kin can be compensated

By MAY ZHOU in Houston | China Daily Global | Updated: 2023-06-01 11:25

A US District Court judge in Illinois ruled Tuesday that relatives of those killed in a Boeing 737 MAX jet crash of Ethiopian Airlines in 2019 can seek compensation for pain and suffering of passengers before the plane hit the ground.

"There is sufficient evidence to support a reasonable inference that these passengers experienced pre-impact fright and terror, and that experience is part of the 'process or manner of death,'" Judge Jorge Alonso wrote in his ruling.

Boeing didn't immediately comment.

The ruling rejected Boeing's argument that the victims had died instantly and that any pain and suffering they might have felt before impact wasn't legally relevant for damage compensation.

MAX jets first went into service in 2017. In October 2018, a MAX jet flown by Indonesian carrier Lion Air crashed into the Java Sea during a routine flight from Jakarta to Pangkal Pinang, killing all 189 passengers and crew.

Less than six months later in March 2019, another MAX jet, flown by Ethiopian Airlines, crashed a few minutes after it took off, killing 149 passengers and crew. Investigations showed that both accidents were triggered by design flaws, in particular flight-control software.

Boeing in 2021 admitted responsibility for the crash in a deal with plaintiffs' attorneys in the Ethiopian crash to not seek potential punitive damages against the plane maker, and in return Boeing wouldn't challenge the lawsuits filed in Illinois.

Boeing also reached a deal with the US government in 2021 in which it would not be charged with a criminal offense by agreeing to pay $2.5 billion in damages and fines and tighten safety compliances. If Boeing complies with the terms of the settlement, the federal government will drop fraud charges three years later.

As of May, cases involving about 80 victims had been settled, with 75 cases pending and heading to potential trials, according to Reuters. The first trial is set for June 20.

At a hearing last week, Boeing lawyers sought to block testimony about pain and suffering by passengers in the minutes before the crash. They argued that the testimony would be inflammatory and have an unfair impact on jurors.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs said in the court filing "there is no dispute that passengers and crew members were conscious and fully aware that the plane was plummeting before it actually crashed at nearly 600 mph''.

Under the ruling, the attorneys for the plaintiffs can call experts who would testify that the passengers likely suffered physical injuries and emotional trauma before the crash.

Agencies contributed to this story.

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