Here, the manufacturer of the plane is the defendant. This brings up interesting points of the law, and who bears the fault for an accident.
Aeronautics juggernaut Boeing has been named as a defendant in a massive lawsuit, involving over 100 plaintiffs, for a 2013 plane crash, the Chicago Tribune reports. The plane, a Boeing 777 jetliner, tumbled shortly after take-off from a runway at San Francisco International Airport last July. The lawsuit was filed in the Circuit Court of Cook County in Chicago, which is also home to Boeing’s headquarters.
The lawsuit claims that Boeing failed to provide their 777 jets with adequate auto-throttle controls. It goes on to claim that Boeing failed to incorporate low-airspeed warning systems in their 777s, a safety measure that their line of 737 passenger jets were retrofitted to include. The lawsuit also claims that Boeing knew or should have known that the pilots of Asiana Airlines, the company operating the flight, were inadequately trained and were not qualified to fly the 777.
This is an interesting case, in that the defendants are not the airline or the pilots, which are the entities that have the most direct control over the plane and its flight. Here, the manufacturer of the plane is the defendant. This brings up interesting points of the law, and who bears the fault for an accident.
Did Boeing Owe a Duty to the Passengers for the Plane?
In the portion of the lawsuit which claims the failure of Boeing to equip their 777s with low-airspeed warning systems, the plaintiffs may have a case. This section centers on the issue of product liability. If the manufacturer of a product makes a defective product, then they may be liable for injury caused by that defect. There are a handful of defects a product can have under the law, including a manufacturing defect and inadequate warnings. The issue here, however, would likely be design defect.
A product has a design defect if there is an alternative design (either hypothetical or already in existence in a similar product) that would render the product safer, without inordinately hindering the intended use and purpose of the product. The case will inevitably turn on the specific facts of this instance, all of which are not available. However, based on the scant evidence gleaned from the Tribune’s report and the plaintiff’s claim, Boeing had already installed warning systems in another line of jets in response to a plane crash. This would arguably favor the claim that an alternative design was not only plausible, but it actually existed.
Did Boeing Owe a Duty to the Passengers for the Pilots?
The inadequacy of the pilots’ training may be a narrower row to travel. That would necessarily be a negligence claim, and one element of negligence is that the defendant owed a duty of care to the plaintiffs. While Boeing definitely owed a duty to manufacture a safe product, whether or not it had a duty to the passengers to ensure the pilots, who were not Boeing employees, is not as clear. Again, it is a fact based analysis that will be the duty of the court or the jury to determine, but it may be less straight forward than the product liability claim.
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