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  • Can Boeing 737 Fire Victims Legally Sue? - Passenger Rights Guide

    Can Boeing 737 Fire Victims Legally Sue? – Passenger Rights Guide

Yes. But it’s sparking a new area of emotion-based injuries while flying on an American Airlines, Boeing 737. If your oxygen masks dropped in turbulence aboard an airplane, you likely know the terror felt when crashing. Imagine you’re buckled up in your seat, ready for takeoff, and suddenly, the unsettling scent of smoke dances through the cabin, or you see an engine in flames. This dreadful scenario is not just a product of an overactive imagination. Recently, passengers on a Boeing 737 had a firsthand encounter with this experience.

I am Michael Ehline, a Los Angeles airplane accident attorney. I have well over a decade of experience suing negligent airlines. In this article, I will uncover problems with Boeing and explain whether or not you can sue this sullied aircraft manufacturer for injuries if hurt by one of their airliners. 

A chilling moment raises a crucial question, “Can passengers, including those flying on United Airlines and Southwest, sue in the event of such incidents?”

The law will never make men free; it is men who have got to make the law free. – Henry David Thoreau

Aviation Law 101 

Let’s dive a little deeper. Many national and international regulations bind the aviation industry. Knowing your rights as a passenger may not always be straightforward due to the legal undertones involved. However, understanding the basics is an essential lifeline in dire circumstances. 

“Airlines, in their ‘contract of carriage,’ often deny liability for damages due to an ‘Act of God,’ ‘Act of War,’ and ‘consequences of Weather Conditions.’ Interestingly, plane malfunctions are not included in this list.”

Now, given the scenario of a panic-stricken cabin and frantic cries due to a sudden fire outbreak, one can reasonably assume that the malfunctions and missteps of the aircraft are to be blamed. So what does this mean for you, as a passenger? 

  • It signifies that the airline cannot shrug off responsibility.
  • You are entitled to compensation if evidence points to neglect or a malfunction.
  • Your safety should never be compromised due to an airline’s shortcomings.

What The National Transportation Safety Board Says

The NTSB found that most aviation accidents and deaths arise in general aviation aircraft and concluded that the general aviation accident rate of 1.31 fatal crashes per 100,000 flight hours presents a public safety problem. 

Connection With Federal Aviation Administration

They urged the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board to act to address the problem. Aviation accident victims face daunting challenges in obtaining negligence damages for injuries. Federal law does not require general aviation pilots or mechanics to carry liability insurance, and many are effectively “judgment-proof” for that reason.

In short, the answer to “Can passengers on a Boeing 737 sue in the wake of such a fire incident?” is, without a doubt, yes. Getting justice won’t be easy. Victims will need experienced legal counsel and a thorough understanding of passenger rights.

What Can Passengers Sue For?

If you were in a plane crash, could you sue the airline? Not only can you sue the airline, but you can also sue the flight crew, the manufacturer, the engine maker, the government whose air traffic control you are under, the pilot, the pilot’s dog, and probably the person who cooked the food. 

A combination of the following usually causes general aviation crashes: 

  • Pilot error, 
  • Aircraft or component failure due to design or manufacture defects, 
  • Aircraft or component failure because of poor maintenance, 
  • Errors by the FAA (e.g., air traffic control). 

No matter who was at fault in a general aviation accident, a victim faces significant practical and legal challenges. a. Pilot and Maintenance Error Pilot error has always been a leading cause of general aviation accidents. 9 Pilots bear a heavy responsibility for the safe operation of their

Passenger Status and Venue?

However, international flights would depend on the International Convention a State has signed. Two Conventions deal with Passenger liability compensation—the Warsaw Convention 1929 & its amendments done at various points in time, and the Montreal Convention 1999. Montreal Convention 199 specifies 100,000 SDRs, adjusted for inflation, per passenger. That amount will be payable to the families of the dead air passengers by the insurance company that the airline has.

Air Traffic Control?

Maybe. The fact is, anyone who could have contributed at all to the crash can be sued. If you don’t, you could lose the right to sue them later, so typically, everyone involved is sued except the pilot’s dog.

Facts about the 737 Max

After all these incidents and hearings, you may wonder whether passengers on a Boeing 737 MAX can potentially sue for a tangible danger like a fire incident. Well, the answer is complex and tied up in various legal contexts. 

But No Physical Injury Took Place?

First, let’s clear up a common misperception. Passengers who were not physically injured may find it difficult to successfully sue for damages solely based on fear or emotional distress experienced during in-flight emergencies unless they can prove a physical manifestation of this stress. 

That being said, passengers who have suffered physical injuries due to such incidents certainly have potential grounds for a lawsuit. Under international aviation law, airlines can be held responsible for any harm to passengers or their belongings in the case of accidents during flight or embarking or disembarking, be it due to a fire, system failure, or any other reason. As per the Montreal Convention, ratified by 136 countries, including the United States, the liability in passenger death or personal injury can reach up to 113,100 Special Drawing Rights (equivalent to around USD 157,000), irrespective of the circumstances. 

Moreover, a lawsuit may take another shape entirely if it can be demonstrated that the manufacturer, Boeing, in this case, exhibited negligence in ensuring the safety of their product. This could include failures in design, manufacturing, and even providing adequate warnings or instructions regarding potential risks. Boeing could potentially be held liable under product liability law in these instances. However, proving negligence will need substantial evidence. 

Additionally, passengers may sue the FAA if it comes to light that the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) was lax in its oversight or failed to ensure proper safety standards. 

Suing a governmental agency often requires a showing of systemic failure or misconduct.

  • The Flight Safety Foundation tracks accidents globally. It promotes aviation safety and effectiveness.
  • A hearing conducted by the Full Committee on December 11, 2019, scrutinized the FAA’s oversight of the Boeing 737 MAX’s certification.
  • Chairs DeFazio and Larsen have urged the FAA to conduct third-party reviews into the Boeing 737-MAX’s safety standards.
  • The Boeing Company is under intense scrutiny over multiple Boeing 737 Max jet incidents.
  • The State of Aviation Safety hearing on July 17, 2019, discussed various safety strategic changes in the aviation sector.
  • The Final Committee Report led to bipartisan legislation. This was designed to strengthen the FAA’s certification process and improve the general regulatory system.
  • Chairs DeFazio and Larsen have applauded a distinct FAA third-party review of the Boeing 737 Max.
  • Chairs DeFazio and Larsen requested the DOT (Department of Transportation) Inspector General to investigate the FAA’s certification of Boeing 737 MAX.
  • Several bills focused on strengthening aviation safety have been advanced by the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee during full committee markup.
  • Preliminary investigative findings on Boeing 737 MAX were issued by the House Transportation Committee nearly a year after initiating its investigation.

Buoyed by the situation’s urgency and the public’s interest, Chairs DeFazio and Larsen have consistently determined to get to the bottom of the certification concerns surrounding the Boeing 737 MAX. They have been instrumental in initiating a third-party review. It was necessary to examine how these planes were approved for mass use thoroughly. 

Lawsuits Filed Over Airplane Door Failure

Plane passengers have already sued Boeing and Alaska Airlines for emotional distress in another matter. On January 5, a Boeing 737 MAX 9 door plug blew during an Alaska Airlines flight. This took place at 16,000 feet. It created a massive, gaping hole, leading to an emergency landing. Surprisingly, there were no serious bodily injuries. Still, four passengers filed suit for  “intense fear, distress, anxiety, trauma, physical pain, and other injuries.”  

Lawsuits Over Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (“MCAS”)

Some Boeing employees and pilots have stated that Boeing failed to communicate flight-stabilizing MCAS features on its Max 8 properly. For example, back in March 2019, Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302, a Max 8, crashed after takeoff, killing all 157 aboard. Before this, a Lion Air Max 8 crash occurred. Then, another Max 8 crashed just six minutes after taking off from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. This place was en route to Nairobi, Kenya, on March 10, 2019. 

Indonesia’s National Transportation Safety Committee said the flight crew tried to pull the aircraft out of a dive caused by a glitching sensor. This caused the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) to tilt the craft nose down. Usually, pilots can manually override these types of automated systems with ease. Not so with the Max 8s. In the case of a Max 8, the panicked crew would have been forced to follow a specific sequence of steps to retake control of the plane’s “angle of attack.”

Accordingly, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) grounded the aircraft on March 13, 2019, reversing a Continued Airworthiness Notice issued two days prior. The FAA’s March 13, 2019, subsequent grounding of all Boeing 737 Max.

Post-Crash Investigations / Litigation

In addition to the fire, there are other lawsuits. With post-crash investigations, severe design defects in the 737 Max were uncovered. Boeing’s intentional refusal to provide proper pilot training and guidance to the airline industry over the MCAS nose-down stall-countering system. Boeing’s competition with Airbus seems to have played a role in ignoring the design risks of its 737 Max. The 737 Max evolution opened the door to at least 346 fatalities.

The U.S. Congressional House Committee on Transportation declared this was due to financial pressure that “resulted in extensive efforts to cut costs, [and] maintain the 737 Max program schedule …”.

Domestic and international post-crash investigations determined at least two crashes were caused by a weak U.S. Federal Aviation Administration airworthiness certification. Allegedly, Boeing relied too much on its airline manufacturer’s self-certification process; It also overrated the 737 Max’s new safety and design features.

Boeing placed profits over people in its haste to sell its redesigned 737 Max aircraft. Above all else, Boeing needed to preserve market share. The recent fire underscores just how potentially dangerous the Max 8 has been.

Financial Consequences for Boeing

The consequences for Boeing have been catastrophic. And this fire isn’t making things any easier. Its financial recovery will cost Boeing billions of dollars and reduce stock value. It faces canceled purchase agreements. Also, delayed orders can cause cancellations and late penalties. Boeing wants to renegotiate purchase agreements. Airlines are seeking loss of revenue compensation, too. Insurance companies refuse to cover business interruption losses. Aviation and property insurance policies have a language that says, “This policy does not insure against loss or damage caused directly or indirectly by loss of market.” Read Duane Reade v. St. Paul Fire & Marine Insurance, 611 F.3d 384 (2d Cir. 2005) to learn more.

The Role of the Third-Party Review:  

An outside review looks at the approval of the Boeing 737 MAX. Its goal is to help the FAA recover credibility in its certification process. This independent review is designed to be transparent.  

An Amphitheatre for Stakeholder Perspectives:  

A noteworthy initiative in these investigations was the Aviation Subcommittee hearing announced by DeFazio and Larsen. This provided a platform for stakeholders to be heard. From engineers and pilots to airline crew and passengers, each perspective is vital in understanding the implications of the base issue and, importantly, any potential compensatory measures. 

Legislation Advances:  

The urgency of constructing a safer aviation environment has been echoed through the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee halls. Several bills have been introduced during full committee markup to strengthen aviation safety. This highlights the collective consensus to prioritize aviation safety. It also acts as a strategic response to the Boeing 737 MAX. 

Moving Forward:  

While the fire and crash situation is layered and depends on several factors, including the jurisdiction, the passenger’s direct experience, and the provisions of the Montreal Convention, passenger claims could potentially chart a new course in aviation law. After all, safety is not just about physical well-being but mental and emotional peace of mind.

The emphasis here, however, is on ‘bodily.’ It scrapes over psychological trauma, not qualifying it as a stand-alone damage claim. Considering this, the agreement’s recognition of passengers’ emotional distress directly caused by plane incidents becomes crucial. Remember that aerophobic passenger from your last flight?

Imagine their terror in an emergency. Unquestionably, they’ll be left with psychological scarring. But can passengers be compensated? That’s where the ambiguity of the current aviation law lies, and it’s this ambiguity that passengers on the 737 Max may be able to challenge. 

While suing based on emotional distress may be relatively uncharted territory in the legal world, there have been successful precedents. Air France Flight 358 survivors proved their claims and were compensated for their distress. Can that open doors for the Boeing 737 MAX screaming passengers? Possibly. 

However, the challenge lies in substantiating such claims. Proving psychological damage could be a complex process and requires an in-depth understanding of legal procedure, along with strong supporting evidence. Plus, the jurisdiction you’re in would play a role in this. While some countries may be more supportive of such claims, others might call it a far stretch. 

The first duty of society is justice. – Alexander Hamilton

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission has also investigated whether Boeing misled investors over safety practices.

Recent Whistleblower “Suicides”?

Two world-famous injury attorneys, Brian Knowles and Rob Turkewitz, represented several Boeing whistleblowers who committed “suicide.” According to new stories, “more than ten” more whistleblowers are out there. These whistleblowers consist of past and present employees. News reports say these people are “safe and sound.” Hopefully, they will survive.


In conclusion, passengers’ fire and smoke injuries can potentially cause Boeing and others to sue. It could be argued that the catastrophic failures and fires aboard the 737 MAX caused significant distress and trauma. But the legal landscape is still somewhat murky; local regulations, the Montreal Convention, and past legal precedents all come into play. It will be a pioneering lawsuit that could potentially make waves in the courtrooms and how the aviation industry views passenger safety and rights. If you wish to speak to airplane accident attorney Michael Ehline about your case, please call him at (213) 596-9642.

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Michael Ehline

Michael Ehline is an inactive U.S. Marine and world-famous legal historian. Michael helped draft the Cruise Ship Safety Act and has won some of U.S. history’s largest motorcycle accident settlements. Together with his legal team, Michael and the Ehline Law Firm collect damages on behalf of clients. We pride ourselves on being available to answer your most pressing and difficult questions 24/7. We are proud sponsors of the Paul Ehline Memorial Motorcycle Ride and a Service Disabled Veteran Operated Business. (SDVOB.) We are ready to fight.