Boeing lawyers argue 737 MAX crash victims didn't have time to feel pain as plane slammed into the ground

boeing lawyers argue 737 max crash victims didn't have time to feel pain as plane slammed into the ground

Investigators look through debris from the 2019 Boeing 737 MAX crash. Boeing’s attorneys claim the plane hit the ground too fast for passengers to feel any pain. Jemal Countess/Getty Images

  • Legal disputes are ongoing to determine what damages Boeing might owe families of crash victims.
  • Two Boeing 737 MAX planes crashed months apart, killing nearly 350 people.
  • Boeing attorneys say they don’t have to pay for pain felt by passengers because they crashed too fast to feel pain.

Attorneys for Boeing and the families of those killed in a 737 MAX crash are embroiled in a legal dispute over what kind of damages the company is required to pay under Illinois state case law.

In a February 27 court filing first reported by the Wall Street Journal and viewed by Insider, Boeing’s lawyers cited an expert who said victims killed in a 2019 crash hit the ground too fast for it to be physically possible for their brains to process pain before they died.

Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 crashed near Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on March 10, 2019, slamming into the ground about six minutes after takeoff at an estimated 700 miles per hour and killing all 157 passengers and crew members. Attorneys for families of the crash victims say they should be compensated for the suffering and terror relatives may have experienced in the minutes before the plane crashed.

According to the filing, Boeing’s lawyers claim “undisputed evidence shows that death was instantaneous, and any speculation about what the passengers might have felt as the plane made impact is unfounded.”

Boeing’s lawyers said in the filing that under Illinois law, damages can only be paid for crash victims “conscious pain and suffering” if there is verifiable evidence that suffering occurred. But in the case of the Ethiopian Airlines crash, a medical expert cited by Boeing said the crash took place at a speed faster than the human brain can process pain.

The lawyers argue that while they don’t dispute the passengers suffered during the tragic flight, a lack of provable injuries means that any speculative pain suffered by the passengers in the milliseconds before their death is irrelevant in determining damages because they would not have been aware they were injured before they died.

Attorneys for Boeing have also dismissed what they have deemed “speculative” claims from experts cited in court filings for the plaintiffs who said the potential nausea, fear of a crash, or injuries from seatbelts or from being thrown around the plane would warrant damages, the Journal reported.

In a separate filing cited by the Journal, attorneys for the families wrote that the 157 people onboard “undeniably suffered horrific emotional distress, pain and suffering, and physical impact/injury while they endured extreme G-forces, braced for impact, knew the airplane was malfunctioning, and ultimately plummeted nose-down to the ground at terrifying speed.”

boeing lawyers argue 737 max crash victims didn't have time to feel pain as plane slammed into the ground

People walk past a part of the wreckage at the scene of the Ethiopian Airlines Flight ET 302 plane crash, near the town of Bishoftu, southeast of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri

Legal experts told the Journal it will be up to the judge to determine what kinds of damages can be collected, and disagreed on whether Illinois case law is settled on the issue of precrash injury damages.

The airplane manufacturer accepted financial responsibility for the accidents caused by faulty automated systems, and ongoing legal battles are set to determine what kind of evidence should be presented to a jury later this year that will determine how much in compensatory damages Boeing has to pay.

“We are deeply sorry to all who lost loved ones on Lion Air Flight 610 and Ethiopian Flight 302,” Boeing said in a statement to Insider. “We have acknowledged the terrible impact of these tragic accidents and made an upfront commitment to fully and fairly compensate every family who suffered a loss.”

The statement continued: “Over the past several years, we have kept our commitment as we settled a significant majority of claims and we look forward to constructively resolving the remaining cases to ensure that the families are fully and fairly compensated.”

About 75% of the civil cases brought against Boeing over the 737 MAX crash in Ethiopia and another a few months earlier in 2018 that killed a total of 346 people have been settled.

The company has also set aside a total of $600 million to be distributed to the families and charities in addition to the upcoming court-decided damages, $100 million of which was shortly after the accidents, and $500 million in additional compensation which was added as part of a $2.5 billion settlement with the Justice Department.

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