The first civil lawsuit on behalf of an American victim of the crash of Ethiopian Airlines flight 302 will be filed on Thursday in Federal Court in Chicago on behalf of a 24-year old health care worker and the niece of consumer advocate Ralph Nader.
Samya Stumo, originally from Sheffield, Massachusetts, was on her way to Nairobi for work with ThinkWell Global when the Boeing 737 Max plunged into a field six minutes after takeoff. The accident, the second crash of Boeing’s newest jetliner forced the grounding of the entire fleet and tough scrutiny of the design and certification of the airplane.
Robert Clifford, a Chicago aviation attorney with Clifford Law Offices and Frank Pitre, from Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy in San Francisco, plan to live stream the announcement of the suit against Boeing on Thursday. Nader will be present for the news event as well.
“This crash should never have happened,” Clifford said in a statement. “The shortcuts and greed of Boeing and others will be proven in the ensuing lawsuits as well as the utter disregard of the passengers they were to protect that could have avoided this tragic crash.”
Big press conferences accompany civil suits that follow air disasters because they help lawyers elevate their profiles through the news coverage without breaking rules that bar solicitation of clients in the United States. For this reason, lawyers often clamor to be the first to file. While Stumo is the first case against Boeing filed by an American, last week, the family of Jackson Musoni, a Rwandan, also filed in Chicago’s Federal District Court. Steve Marks of Podhurst Orseck told the Chicago Tribune, that Boeing “should have taken steps to protect the flying public.”
In the Stumo case, lawyers are not only planning to sue Boeing, but the Federal Aviation Administration, in a separate suit to be filed later in Washington, D.C..
Suing the FAA is considerably more problematic, as I reported for ThePointsGuy earlier this week. For more than 30 years courts have found that government officials cannot be held liable for decisions they make, even if those decisions later turn out to be wrong.
“Regulators and the government have to be free to exercise their discretion free from the threat of liability,” Mark Dombroff, an aviation lawyer with the Washington firm LeClair Ryan told me.
Nevertheless, with half a dozen investigations already underway, and politicians examining the relationship between Boeing and the FAA, lawyers representing Stumo may be assuming that more damning information could emerge than what has already been revealed in congressional testimony and stories published in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, the Wall Street Journal and The New York Times.
“The tragedy of the hundreds of lives lost in two 737 Max crashes is just one more example of corporate America running over government regulators, such as the FAA,” Pitre said in a statement. “It is a revolving door of influence, money and power over safety for passengers.”