Attorneys for Boeing argued in court last month that the families of victims who died in an early 737 Max crash aren’t entitled to pain and suffering damages because there isn’t sufficient evidence of “pre-impact pain.”
When Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 nosedived into the ground on March 10, 2019, after six almost certainly terrifying minutes of out-of-control flight, all 157 people aboard perished.
But since the jet was traveling at the speed of sound, they all presumably died more or less instantly, says Boeing, so there wasn’t enough time for pain to register. Therefore, the company believes additional compensation to victims’ families for pain and suffering would be excessive.
“While passengers undoubtedly perceived the flight as scary, humans have a tendency to hold on to hope and not expect the worst,” Jonathan French, an expert witness for Boeing, argued in a court filing obtained by The Wall Street Journal. “Ultimately, it is impossible to know the subjective experience of each occupant.”
At face value, it’s a preposterous claim to make.
Passengers aboard the plane, the plaintiffs argued in court, “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.”
But in Illinois, where the case is being heard, there is some legal basis for Boeing to attempt the argument.
Unlike other states, such as New York and Texas, the Chicago Bar Association notes that Illinois courts have yet to fully address whether a plaintiff can seek damages for a decedent’s “pre-impact fear.”
And precedent set by a fatal 1979 American Airlines DC-10 passenger jet crash outside Chicago limited the damages that could be sought for such mental distress.
Boeing has settled roughly 75% of the civil claims from the crash so far, and presumably hopes to settle the remainder instead of going to trial in June.
Boeing attorneys fretted in one filing that if pain and suffering damages are on the table, “jurors would inevitably sympathize with testimony about the passengers’ alleged fear of impending death and imagine themselves in the passengers’ shoes.”
In a statement to HuffPost, a Boeing spokesperson apologized to the families affected and pledged to “constructively resolve” the remaining cases.
“We are deeply sorry to all who lost loved ones on Lion Air Flight 610 and Ethiopian Flight 302,” the statement read, referring to another 737 Max that crashed. “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.
“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.”