Court Proceedings On Behalf of Joanna Toole’s Family commenced against Boeing and Rosemount in Chicago.
The family of a UN worker killed in the Ethiopian Airlines’ Boeing 737 MAX crash have commenced legal action against Boeing and Rosemount Aerospace (the manufacturer of the aircraft’s Angle of Attack Sensors) in what is believed to be the first case arising from the tragedy that has been filed at court by the family of a British passenger.
Joanna Toole, 36, was one of seven British passengers on board Flight ET302 when it crashed on 10th March, shortly after take-off from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, killing all 157 passengers and crew.
Specialist aviation lawyers at Irwin Mitchell, working with colleagues in the US have now commenced court proceedings in Chicago, Illinois on behalf of Joanna’s family.
Clive Garner, partner and head of the Aviation Law team at Irwin Mitchell is representing Joanna’s family.
Expert Opinion“While the official accident investigation continues, the exact cause or causes of the Ethiopian Airlines disaster remains unknown. Despite this sufficient evidence is now available to enable proceedings to be commenced against both Boeing and Rosemount Aerospace. These proceedings have now been filed in the Federal Court in Chicago..
“The proceedings involve allegations of a catalogue of serious failures by Boeing. The allegations include criticism of Boeing’s decision to fit new, larger engines to the existing 737 airframe. These engines altered the aircraft’s handling characteristics and, in particular, caused the nose of the aircraft to pitch upwards in the period following take off, increasing the risk of an engine stall. To reduce this risk Boeing introduced a new software system called MCAS which automatically pitched the nose of the aircraft downwards when the Angle of Attack Sensors fitted to the aircraft signalled that the angle of the aircraft was too steep.
"However, it is also alleged that the MCAS software was faulty and it is now being re-designed. Further, pilots of the new MAX 8 aircraft were not made sufficiently aware of the operation of the new software and were not adequately trained to deal with a situation like the one that arose on flight ET302.
“To compound matters, an Angle of Attack Disagree Light, fitted as standard to previous 737 aircraft, was not fitted to the Ethiopian Airlines aircraft. The Disagree Light could have alerted the pilots to a problem with one of the Angle of Attack Sensors which in turn may have caused them to take alternative action to save the aircraft. The Disagree light was only made available by Boeing on the 737 MAX 8 as an optional extra.
“Rosemount Aerospace is also a defendant in the proceedings. Rosemount manufactured the aircraft’s Angle of Attack Sensors, at least one of which appears to have been faulty. The sensor sent inaccurate information to the MCAS system which repeatedly pitched the nose of the aircraft downwards, over-ruling the actions of the pilots who repeatedly tried to gain altitude to avoid the aircraft hitting the ground.”
“This is a small selection of the list of allegations we are making against Boeing and Rosemount Aerospace and the entire fleet of MAX 8 aircraft are still grounded World-wide pending remedial work to satisfy the Federal Aviation Authority and other Regulators who have banned the continued use of the aircraft in their airspace.” Clive Garner - Partner
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In a recent interview, Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenberg refused to accept that the design of the MCAS system was flawed, stating instead that Boeing “followed exactly the steps in our design and certification processes that consistently produce safe airplanes”. Boeing has, however, acknowledged that improvements to the MCAS software have been made and are to be installed.
Boeing has also previously stated that, “…the absence of the Angle of Attack Disagree alert did not adversely impact airplane safety or operation”. Boeing has now confirmed that the AOA Disagree alert will be fitted to all 737 MAX aircraft as a “standalone feature”. This will be done before 737 MAX aircraft return to service following their current world-wide ban.
It remains to be seen whether Boeing will be able to substantiate its defence in the court room.
Rebecca Smith, aviation lawyer at Irwin Mitchell is also working on the case against Boeing and Rosemount.
Expert Opinion“Joanna’s family are understandably devastated and angry. While nothing can ever make up for the pain they continue to suffer, they want to know exactly how this tragedy was allowed to happen and steps taken to reduce the risk of another aviation disaster like this occurring in the future” Rebecca Smith - Senior Associate Solicitor
Joanna was on board the plane while working for the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. She was travelling to the UN Environment Assembly in Nairobi, Kenya, when the accident occurred.
Her father Adrian said: “Joanna was a wonderfully warm and inspirational person who dedicated her life to the welfare of animals.
"The last few months trying to accept her death in such sudden and unexpected circumstances have been incredibly difficult.
“Since the crash happened we learn more and more about the Boeing 737 MAX and its problems. Neither Joanna nor her family knew that there were faults in the design of this plane; with the technology and expertise available to the builders, passengers should have been able to trust that the flight would be without incident. We were stunned to learn about the apparent technical issues with the aircraft which was a new and supposedly state-of-the-art plane.
“Nothing can ever bring Joanna back but we hope that by continuing to push for answers about what went wrong, justice will be done and flight safety improved for others in the future."
Expert Opinion“As well as Joanna’s family, we are also assisting others who tragically lost loved ones following the crash of ET302. We anticipate filing claims in the US courts on behalf of more clients shortly.” Clive Garner - Partner