Boeing tries to withhold evidence in 737 Max Ethiopian cases, lawyer says

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  • Boeing is rejecting requests for evidence in cases brought by relatives of victims in the 737 Max crashes, according to a lawyer representing some of them.
  • Lawyer Steve Marks accused Boeing of using a “scorched earth approach”, trying to limit the provision of documents and witnesses that he said are relevant to the case.
  • 189 people were killed in the first 737 Max crash, off Indonesia in October 2018, and 157 people in the second in Ethiopia in March 2019.
  • Marks – who was involved in both crashes – said Boeing was much less cooperative during the Ethiopia crash.
  • Boeing has defended its move, saying it has produced nearly 2 million pages of documents and is committed to working with families.
  • Visit the Business Insider homepage for more stories.

Boeing is using a “scorched earth” strategy to try to keep the evidence out of the attorneys representing the victims of one of the 737 Max’s fatal crashes, one of the attorneys said.

Steven Marks, an aviation attorney with Miami-based Podhurst Orseck, said Boeing had toughened its approach to the legal fallout from the second of two crashes, which occurred in Ethiopia in 2019.

Boeing is currently seeking to settle cases brought by the families of those killed when the Ethiopian Airlines plane crashed into the ground with 157 people on board.

It has largely settled the cases of the crash of a 737 Max operated by Lion Air in Indonesia in early October 2018, where 189 people died.

Lion Air

Families of victims of Lion Air flight JT 610 travel to an operations center to search for personal items of loved ones in October 2018.

Ulet Ifansasti / Getty Images

The two crashes led to the grounding of planes around the world and the biggest crisis in Boeing history.

They have led to a series of lawsuits from grieving families, as well as Boeing shareholders. Airlines that bought the planes demanded compensation, others canceled future orders and Boeing faced serious scrutiny from Congress. Its former CEO was fired in the fallout.

In an interview with Business Insider, Marks said Boeing’s approach is very different between the Lion Air and the Ethiopian cases. In the latter, he said, the company’s lawyers refused to provide evidence that victims’ representatives wanted to see.

Boeing 737 Max

Undelivered Boeing 737 Max planes parked near Boeing Field, Washington in September 2019. They have yet to be delivered due to the plane’s grounding.

David Ryder / Getty Images

He called Boeing’s approach to Ethiopian Airlines “the complete opposite of what happened at Lion Air”.

In the case of Ethiopian Airlines, he said, “Boeing has taken a very different approach to scorched earth. ”

In a statement to Business Insider, Boeing defended its approach and argued that it took its obligations to provide evidence “seriously”. A spokesperson said the company has so far turned nearly 2 million pages.

Marks represents seven of the families in that crash, none of whom were settled. He settled 37 cases of the Lion Air crash.

Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 MAX

The coffins of a woman and three children who died in the crash of the Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 Max, pictured in October 2019.

SULEIMAN MBATIAH / AFP via Getty Images

Marks is also one of the leaders of the committee of lawyers of different law firms that represent all the families of those killed, which was formed by the judge in charge of the cases.

Marks described the provision of evidence as “the main pressure point” that these lawyers exerted on Boeing.

He said he and others “had been fighting with Boeing for over a year” over the type of information relevant to the cases, including documents and witnesses.

“It has been a real dog fight every step of the way. There is hardly ever an agreement. It’s the complete opposite of what happened at Lion Air. “

FILE PHOTO: Ethiopian federal police officers stand at the scene of the crash of Ethiopian Airlines flight ET 302, near the town of Bishoftu, southeast of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on March 11, 2019. REUTERS / Tiksa Negeri / File Photo

Ethiopian federal police officers stand at the scene of the Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 Max crash near the town of Bishoftu, Ethiopia, in March 2019.

Reuters

“They try very hard to limit themselves to the production of documents, to limit the witnesses available for testimony and everything has been a brawl. ”

He said: “Every little step of the way has been a struggle and it has been difficult to get anything. ”

Marks said his team of attorneys requested documents that Boeing produced in litigation with shareholders, including minutes of directors’ meetings and “email exchanges about what the board knew. “.

One of the main questions surrounding the legal affairs related to the crash is the extent to which Boeing was aware of the issues with the Ethiopian plane prior to its flight.

But he said Boeing opposed providing the minutes and emails on the grounds that they were irrelevant. Lawyers are filing a motion that could force Boeing to provide them.

Boeing 737 Max

Family members of those who died on an Ethiopian Airlines plane sit with photos of loved ones during a Senate Trade Committee hearing in October 2019.

Gagnez McNamee / Getty Images

Marks said Boeing also refused to make available documents it handed to Congress to help lawmakers with crash investigations.

In a statement to Business Insider, Boeing spokesman Bradley Akuburio said Boeing was taking the evidence “seriously” and would continue to work with lawyers.

“We extend our deepest condolences to the families and loved ones of all who are on board Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302,” he said.

“We are committed to continuing to work with families in an effort to resolve their complaints. We take our discovery obligations seriously and have produced nearly 2 million pages of documents to date. “

“We will continue to work with the families’ lawyer and the court to respond to their pending information requests. “

Boeing updated the system which malfunctioned in both crashes, and the plane is expected to be approved to fly again soon.

Boeing had also previously committed to making the aircraft one of the safest to fly when it returns to the skies.

Marks said his team of lawyers recently filed a petition that would require Boeing to provide additional evidence, such as access to employee personal devices and laptops: “The matter is now in court. ”

Marks argued that he and other lawyers “already have sufficient evidence to establish Boeing’s liability.”

“But families and the flying public deserve to know the full extent of the wrongdoing that Boeing continues to hide. “

FILE PHOTO: Unpainted Boeing 737 MAXs are seen parked in an aerial photo at Renton Municipal Airport near the Boeing Renton facility in Renton, Washington, United States July 1, 2019. REUTERS / Lindsey Wasson

Unpainted Boeing 737 Max airplane parked at Renton Municipal Airport in Renton in July 2019.

Reuters

Marks noted that Boeing uses different law firms for each accident, which could lead to different approaches.

He also noted that the Lion Air cases were legally “a little easier to deal with” than the Ethiopian Airlines cases as the victims were mostly of one nationality, unlike the Ethiopian crash.

He said the cases were also simpler than US law enforced since the crash on international water. The Ethiopian crash was on the ground.

The Ethiopian Airlines cases are currently before Judge Jorge L. Alonso of the Federal Court for the Northern District of Illinois.

FILE - In this file photo dated Monday March 11, 2019, rescuers work at the scene of an Ethiopian Airlines plane crash south of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The number of fatalities in major air crashes worldwide fell by more than half in 2019, according to a report released Wednesday, January 1, 2020 by aviation consultancy To70, revealing that the worst crash of the year was a Boeing 737 MAX from Ethiopian Airlines. on March 10, which lost 157 lives. (AP Photo / Mulugeta Ayene, FILE)

Rescuers work at the scene of an Ethiopian Airlines plane crash in March 2019.

Associated press

How much evidence Boeing would have to provide has been a central question in how the cases would unfold since they were first brought against Boeing.

Boeing had previously considered moving the Lion Air cases from the United States to Indonesia, where the crash happened.

It’s a common decision in aviation litigation, but experts and victims’ lawyers told Business Insider that Boeing should have provided much less evidence and would likely leave families with much more modest settlements.

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