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Boeing Tries to Offshore Lion Air Lawsuits to Indonesia

— May 2, 2019

And attorneys for Lion Air victims’ families say the proposed venue change doesn’t make much sense.

Boeing can’t shake its legal problems in the United States, so it’s trying to offshore some to Indonesia.

According to Bloomberg and The Los Angeles Times, Boeing Co. recently filed a motion requesting an international change of venue. Along with March’s Ethiopian crash, many complaints stem from last October’s Lion Air incident.

Now Boeing is trying to argue that relatives of Lion Air victims shouldn’t be able to sue in the United States.

“They don’t want them to have justice,” said Steven Hart, a Chicago attorney representing some plaintiffs from the Lion Air crash.

Lion Air Flight 610, notes Bloomberg, plummeted into the Java Sea on October 29th, merely minutes after take-off. All 189 people onboard died.

An Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 757. Image via Wikimedia Commons. Public domain.

Similarities between the Lion Air incident and the Ethiopian crash revealed glaring deficiencies in Boeing’s software and safety standards.

In both cases, Boeing 737 Max 8 planes plunged back to the ground moments after taking flight. Investigators have already prescribed some blame to Boeing’s Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS), which automatically corrects jet controls to counter dangerous conditions.

However, problems with the Max 8’s external angle-of-attack sensors would sometimes erroneously trigger MCAS. The system’s self-correction was so devastatingly powerful—Ethiopian and Lion Air’s pilots weren’t able to manually counteract a nose-dive forced by MCAS, which had received faulty information signaling that the planes were ascending so quickly they were at risk of stalling.

While MCAS was designed, manufactured and sold in and from the United States, Boeing believes there’s sufficient precedent to force a change of venue.

“The disputes relating to the Lion Air Flight JT 610 accident should be heard and resolved by the courts of the nation with the greatest interest in the matter,” Boeing said in a filing late last year. “That means the Indonesian courts, just as other cases arising out of Indonesian aviation accidents have been resolved by Indonesian courts.”

Not surprisingly, attorneys involved with victims’ advocacy say the logic doesn’t make sense given the 737 Max 8’s domestic production.

“This is not like other airline crashes,” said Brian Kabateck, a lawyer involved in the lawsuits. “I’ve never had a case in which everything related to the aircraft happened here. So why shouldn’t Boeing be held accountable where they designed and sold the plane?”

“Our justice system is based on the free flow of information,” Kabateck added, “depositions, pretrial discovery and due process on both sides.

“All these issues either don’t exist in Indonesia or are murky.”

Victims are hoping for a swift resolution, as Boeing’s request of a venue change overseas could put litigation filed in Chicago on hold.

In the meantime, Boeing has shored up its legal support, recently appointing its top attorney—general counsel and executive vice president J. Michael Luttig—as counselor and senior adviser to its CEO and board of directors.

Luttig, notes the Associated Press, is a former prosecutor, assistant U.S. attorney general and federal judge. Now 64, he’s been working with Boeing for over a decade.

Luttig’s new position will give him charge and oversight of Boeing’s legal challenges in both the Lion Air and Ethiopian crash.

While Boeing has yet explicitly admitted the role its faulty software played in either incident, Bloomberg reports that the company has, in effect, acknowledged its “ownership” of the issue.


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