Sept. 17, 2019 – Chicago, Illinois — Aviation attorneys from the law firm of Baum, Hedlund, Aristei & Goldman filed a wrongful death lawsuit on Friday, September 13 against The Boeing Company and Rosemount Aerospace on behalf of the heirs of Jane Njeri Kamau, one of the 157 people killed in the Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 crash on March 10, 2019. The lawsuit was brought on their behalf by Jane Kamau’s son and only child, Kenneth Kamau.

Ronald L.M. Goldman, A. Ilyas Akbari, and WilliamCrawford Appleby IV filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. The case number is 1:19-cv-06149.

Jane Kamau was a cancer expert and child life specialist, returning home from the International Society of Pediatric Oncology (SIOP) in Cairo, Egypt, where she presented on child life supports for retinoblastoma patients in Kenya. The survival rate for retinoblastoma, a rare eye cancer, is much lower in Kenya than in the U.S. Retinoblastoma is often treated there by removal of one or both eyes. Children in Kenya who survive this cancer often become severely depressed and ostracized from friends and even family, as there are essentially no psychiatric care treatment plans after the surgeries. Jayne was a founding board member of the Kenya Association of Child Life, and was committed to finding the care and psychiatric treatment necessary to help these children and their families adjust to their post retinoblastoma lives.

“As someone who dedicated her life to caring for children with cancer and their families, Jane Kamau deserved better than to suffer the unspeakable horrors she and the other victims aboard Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 were forced to endure … they all deserved better. This was a very special group of people on this plane,” said Mr. Kamau’s attorney, A. Ilyas Akbari.

Baum, Hedlund, Aristei & Goldman represents multiple victims’ families from the Ethiopian Airlines crash. The firm plans to file other lawsuits imminently.

“Jane Kamau played by the rules and never took shortcuts. She was killed because of the greed of the Boeing Company, which pressured its own engineers and the FAA to certify this new plane as fast as possible, using shortcuts and deception to avoid the full and lengthy certification process that is required by a newly designed aircraft. We want to ensure that my mother’s legacy will bring change to the way the FAA conducts its oversight and demand that the MAX 8 and other new designs complete the entire certification process,” said Kenneth Kamau, Jane’s son.

The lawsuit  seeks punitive damages in order to deter Boeing and others from engaging in similar conduct in the future.

Allegations in Lawsuit Against Boeing

On March 10, 2019, a Boeing 737 MAX 8 operating as Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 (ET302) departed Addis Ababa, Ethiopia,bound for Nairobi, Kenya, with eight crew members and 149 passengers onboard. Moments after takeoff, the plane entered into a sudden and horrific nosedive, resulting in a tug-of-war between the pilots and the plane. The pilots manually tried to climb, only to be repeatedly overridden by the plane’s computer system, which caused the plane to dive in response, each time increasing the nose-down angle until it finally crashed. All on board were killed, after unimaginable horror and fright lasting at least two full minutes—an eternity.

According to a preliminary report compiled by Ethiopian authorities, the pilots of ET302 repeatedly followed procedures from Boeing but could not save the plane. The ET302 crash came less than five months after another Boeing 737 MAX 8 operating as Lion Air Flight 610 crashed in Indonesia, killing189 people. According to the Kamau lawsuit, the similarities between the two crashes are “unmistakable.”

The main allegations in the lawsuit:

  • Boeing’s 737 MAX 8 aircraft is defective and dangerous.
  • Rosemount Aerospace’s sensors, which Boeing utilizes in its MAX 8 aircraft, are defective and dangerous.
  • Boeing put profit over safety by concealing the 737 MAX 8’s defects from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), airlines, and pilots, even after the 2018 fatal crash of Lion Air Flight 610.
  • The FAA may have been notified about the 737 MAX 8’s defects in August of 2018, roughly two months before the Lion Air Flight 610 crash and seven months before the Ethiopian Airlines crash.

Boeing designed the MAX 8 with CFM LEAP-1B engines, which are larger in size than earlier models. The engines negatively affect the aerodynamic handling of the MAX 8 by causing its nose to pitch upward during flight.

To address this aerodynamic defect, Boeing designed and incorporated the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS), which created bigger problems, according to the complaint.

MCAS automatically trims the MAX 8’s nose down if either of the aircraft’s two Angle of Attack sensors (manufactured by Rosemount Aerospace) indicate that the aircraft’s nose is too high and subject the aircraft to a potential stall.

Because Boeing knew the MCAS system would require airlines to send their pilots to costly flight simulator training, causing them to miss time from flying, the company chose not to disclose the existence of the MCAS system to airlines and their pilots. According to reporting from the Seattle Times, Mark Forkner suggested to the FAA that the MCAS not be included in the Boeing 737 MAX 8’s pilot manual.

The MAX 8’s defects were extremely dangerous, per the complaint, particularly in light of the secret nature of the MCAS system, as they could result in a tug-of-war between the aircraft’s flight computer and the pilots. While the pilots would try to climb upwards, the secret computer system would try to dive towards the ground.

Federal prosecutors are currently conducting a wide-ranging investigation into both crashes that includes the design and role of MCAS, as well as the FAA’s certification process for the MAX 8.

“As more facts continue to come to light, it is no surprise that, as of September 9, 2019, Mark Forkner, who was Boeing’s chief technical pilot on its MAX project, has refused to provide documents and information in response to subpoenas from federal prosecutors, invoking his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination,” said attorney A. Ilyas Akbari.

Lawsuit Alleges Boeing Had Conscious Disregard for the Lives and Safety of Others

The lawsuit alleges that Boeing had conscious disregard for the lives and safety of others, and its leadership made numerous decisions to intentionally conceal the defects in the MAX 8 from its customers and the general public. The company described the MCAS as a “benign computer code that was part of the flight control computer designed to cause the MAX 8 to ‘feel’ to its pilots like it handled similarly to a 737NG.”

“Boeing presented a materially different version of the MAX 8 flight control system to the FAA for certification than it delivered to its customers. As a result, Boeing’s test pilots did not perform an adequate review of the MAX 8 safety system, the FAA did not require flight or simulator training for pilots transitioning from 737NG to the MAX 8, Boeing’s flight manual did not properly address the new system, and its online course created for transitioning pilots did not even address the possible emergencies caused by the MAX 8’s defects.”

Ethiopian Airlines Flight ET 302 Litigation Update

Thus far, at least 86 lawsuits have been filed, including the Kamau complaint, on behalf of 87 decedents. Fifty-five only name The Boeing Company as a defendant, while 31 also name Rosemount Aerospace, Inc. Three lawsuits also name Rockwell Collins, Inc. as a defendant.

Initial discovery has commenced and a motion for standardizing pleadings and discovery requests, early settlement efforts, preliminary protective orders, and Plaintiffs’ leadership designations and executive committee appointments will be discussed at a Status Hearing held today before Judge Alonso. The steering committee will manage and coordinate the communications, pleadings and submissions between the plaintiffs and the defendants, providing efficiency of the administration of the consolidated cases. Baum Hedlund aviation attorney and partner, Ilyas Akbari, attended the status conference on September 12th and today’s hearing.

About Jane Kamau

Jane Kamau was a child life specialist at Moi University and Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital. She worked with children who had retinoblastoma, a rare eye cancer often treated by removing one or both eyes.

Jane Kamau

Jane Kamau

In the United States, the survival rate for retinoblastoma is around 95%. In Kamau’s native Kenya, however, the rate is much lower, largely due to later diagnosis. Before she boarded the flight that would be her last, Jane Kamau gave a presentation about her work at a meeting of The Society of Pediatric Oncology in Africa, which was held in Cairo.

“Jane was the center of the team in Kenya working with patients and their families. She could connect with anyone, be with anyone and make them feel respected and listened to,” said Morgan Livingstone, Jane’s mentor and Director of Child Life at charity World Eye Cancer Hope. “In Africa, there isn’t a lot of psychosocial support for children with cancer and their families, and outcomes are pretty bad. Jane was able to talk about everything with families, including difficult topics like death and end of life care when needed.”

About Baum, Hedlund, Aristei & Goldman

Baum Hedlund Aristei & Goldman is one of the more experienced aviation law firms in the world, with broad experience in a complex choice of law issues. For more than 46 years, Baum, Hedlund, Aristei & Goldman has successfully fought for over 700 victims affected by more than 250 aviation accidents, including commercial plane crashes. The firm’s aviation attorneys have handled over 200 cases involving Boeing aircraft and 12 crashes against foreign airlines, including Ethiopian Airlines. The firm also sued Boeing on behalf of 17 passengers injured in the crash of Asiana Flight OZ214 on July 6, 2013 at San Francisco International Airport. Our team was appointed to the ad hoc leadership committee for the Asiana crash and served appointments to Plaintiffs’ Steering Committees for 12 other airline accidents since 1989. With more than $4 billion in verdicts and settlements obtained on behalf of clients across all areas of practice, the firm has earned a reputation for championing the rights of victims and holding negligent companies responsible for the damage they cause.