Pain and terror felt by passengers before Boeing Max crashed can be considered, judge rules

May 31, 2023, 8:49 AM | Updated: 9:14 am

FILE - Candles are lit on a memorial wall during an anniversary memorial service at the Holy Trinit...

FILE - Candles are lit on a memorial wall during an anniversary memorial service at the Holy Trinity Cathedral in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, March 8, 2020, to remember those who died when Ethiopian Airlines flight ET302, a Boeing 737 Max, crashed shortly after takeoff on March 10, 2019, killing all 157 on board. A federal judge is ruling that families of passengers who died in the crash can seek damages for the pain and terror suffered by their relatives before the plane crashed. The ruling posted Tuesday, May 30, 2023 is a setback for Boeing, which had argued that evidence about the victims’ suffering is speculative and would have an unfair impact on jurors. (AP Photo/Mulugeta Ayene, File)

(AP Photo/Mulugeta Ayene, File)

Families of passengers who died in the crash of a Boeing 737 Max in Ethiopia can seek damages for the pain and terror suffered by victims in the minutes before the plane flew nose-down into the ground, a federal judge has ruled.

The ruling means that lawyers for the families will be able to call experts to testify about the victims’ pain and suffering before the 2019 crash, which killed everyone on board.

The ruling posted late Tuesday by U.S. District Judge Jorge Alonso in Chicago is a setback for Boeing, which had argued that evidence about the victims’ suffering would be speculative.

The decision comes in a case over compensation for the relatives of people who died in the second of two deadly crashes involving Boeing’s best-selling plane. A trial is scheduled to begin June 20.

Boeing has admitted responsibility for the deaths of the passengers and agreed not to blame the pilots or anyone else. In exchange, lawyers for the families agreed not to seek punitive damages against the company. The trial will determine compensation for things such as burial expenses, loss of income, and grief suffered by immediate family members.

At a hearing last week, Boeing lawyers sought to block testimony about pain and suffering by passengers in the minutes before the crash. They said the testimony would be inflammatory and have an unfair impact on jurors.

Boeing lawyers also said that Illinois law — in effect even though the case is being tried in federal court — bars compensatory damages for the passengers’ pain and suffering because they died the instant the plane hit the ground.

Attorneys for the families say their clients can’t stop thinking about the terror their loved ones suffered as the plane repeatedly dove and climbed before entering a final nosedive at nearly 700 miles per hour. The attorneys want to call experts who would testify that the passengers likely suffered physical injuries and emotional trauma before the crash.

There are bound to be further arguments over rules of the trial, including whether to call the crash an accident. One of the families’ lawyers, Robert Clifford, said he wants to call the crater left by the crash a crime scene.

In 2021, Boeing reached a settlement with the Justice Department to avoid criminal prosecution for misleading federal regulators who approved the Max by hiding details of a flight-control system implicated in the crashes. The company received a $244 million fine and agreed to pay compensation to airlines and victims, raising the cost of the deal to $2.5 billion.

In all, 346 people died in the two crashes involving Max jets shortly after airlines around the world began using the planes. In October 2018, a Lion Air Max crashed in Indonesia, killing all 189 people on board. Less than five months later, in March 2019, an Ethiopian Airlines Max carrying 149 passengers and eight crew members crashed six minutes after takeoff from Addis Ababa.

Boeing has settled with most families of people on board the Lion Air jet and many of those on the Ethiopian plane, including several this week. But several dozen families of those who were on the second plane are pressing ahead, and a trial is scheduled to start June 20 in federal court in Chicago.

Boeing is headquartered in Arlington, Virginia, but it was based in Chicago when the first lawsuits were filed in 2019.


Photo: A delegate wears a hat with pins during the Republican National Convention Monday, July 15, ...

Christine Fernando, Steve People and Jill Colvin, The Associated Press

Rep. Walsh speaks for Washington as cheering GOP delegates nominate Trump for president

Cheering GOP delegates formally nominated Donald Trump for president at Monday's Republican National Convention kickoff.

4 days ago

Photo: Sen. J.D. Vance, R-Ohio, right, points toward Republican presidential candidate former Presi...

Jill Colvin, Julie Carr Smyth, Steve Peoples and Zeke Miller, The Associated Press

Trump picks Sen. JD Vance of Ohio, a once-fierce critic turned loyal ally, as his GOP running mate

Donald Trump named Sen. JD Vance of Ohio as his running mate, choosing a onetime critic who became a loyal ally.

5 days ago

trump assassination...

Ayanna Alexander, The Associated Press

What to know about Trump assassination attempt and the investigation into the shooting

Authorities want to know how a shooter was able to get on top of a roof so close to where former President Donald Trump was speaking and open fire.

5 days ago

Photo: Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump is surrounded by U.S. Secret...

Julie Carr Smyth, Jill Colvin, Colleen Long, Michael Balsamo, Eric Tucker and Michelle L. Price, The Associated Press

Trump heads to convention as authorities investigate motive, security in assassination attempt

Trump called for unity and resilience after an attempt on his life added fresh uncertainty to an already tumultuous presidential campaign.

5 days ago

Photo: President Joe Biden speaks from the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, Sunday,...

Will Weissert and Zeke Miller, The Associated Press

In primetime address, Biden says country must not go down road of political violence

President Joe Biden says “we can’t, we must not go down” the road of political violence in America after the attempted Trump assassination.

5 days ago

Photo: President Joe Biden speaks at a news conference following the NATO Summit in Washington, Thu...

Zeke Miller, Seung Min Kim, Lisa Mascaro and Colleen Long, The Associated Press

Biden says during news conference he’s going to ‘complete the job’ despite calls to bow out

Biden used his highly anticipated news conference to deliver a defense of his policies and batted away questions about his ability to serve.

8 days ago

Pain and terror felt by passengers before Boeing Max crashed can be considered, judge rules