Boeing admits full responsibility for 737 Max plane crash in Ethiopia

‘Significant milestone’ paves way for families of 157 victims of 2019 crash to seek compensation, say lawyers

Boeing has admitted full responsibility for the second crash of its 737 Max model in Ethiopia, in a legal agreement with families of the 157 victims.

Lawyers for the families said it was a “significant milestone” for families to achieve justice.

The legal stipulation, filed in Chicago on Wednesday and awaiting court approval next Tuesday, states the aircraft manufacturer accepts responsibility for the crash of Ethiopian airlines flight 302 in March 2019, having “produced an airplane that had an unsafe condition”, and would not seek to blame any other party, specifically including the pilots.

It paves the way for families of all victims of the crash, from 35 countries, to seek compensation in the US under Illinois law, in return for not seeking punitive damages against Boeing, limiting the potential financial liability for the manufacturer.

The Ethiopian Airlines 737 Max crashed soon after takeoff from Addis Ababa for Nairobi. It was the second 737 Max disaster in six months after a Lion Air plane in Indonesia crashed in October 2018, killing 189 people.

A Boeing 737 Max on a test flight in Seattle.
A Boeing 737 Max on a test flight in Seattle. Photograph: Karen Ducey/Reuters

Investigators identified faults in the sensors and new flight control software that had not been explained to pilots.

The model was grounded worldwide but has returned to service this year, with airlines including Ryanair taking deliveries of the aircraft.

The lead lawyers for the families, Robert Clifford, Steven Marks and Justin Green, said: “This is a significant milestone for the families in their pursuit of justice against Boeing, as it will ensure they are all treated equitably and eligible to recover full damages under Illinois law while creating a pathway for them to proceed to a final resolution, whether through settlements or trial.

“We are confident that this historic agreement and the compensation to be paid to the families of the ET 302 tragedy will serve to hold Boeing fully accountable … and help bring their families a step closer to achieving some measure of closure for the loss of their loved ones.”

Boeing agreed a $2.5bn (£1.86bn) settlement in January with the US Department of Justice in fines and compensation, which included a $500m fund to compensate families of the 346 victims of both 737 Max crashes.

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Experts say settlements are more likely than executives being brought to court. James Healy-Pratt of Keystone Law, who has acted in similar cases, said the agreement was “welcome news”, adding: “In all probability, these claims will be privately mediated to resolution.”

A Boeing spokesperson said: “Boeing is committed to ensuring that all families who lost loved ones in the accidents are fully and fairly compensated for their loss. The agreement filed with the court today is an important step forward in that process. By accepting responsibility, Boeing’s agreement with the families allows the parties to focus their efforts on determining the appropriate compensation for each family.”

British relatives of one of the victims welcomed Boeing’s admission of liability. Mark Pegram, the father of Sam Pegram, an aid worker who died in the crash, told the BBC: “The main positive for us is that Boeing is admitting liability, and not diverting blame onto Ethiopian Airlines or the pilots ... we wanted them to hold their hands up.”

The family said they would use any compensation to set up a charity in Pegram’s name.

Contributor

Gwyn Topham Transport correspondent

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