Families of Canadians killed in Ethiopian Airlines crash file lawsuit

The families of Canadians killed in the Ethiopian Airlines crash last month have launched a lawsuit against plane maker Boeing. Also Monday, Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg tried to bolster shareholder confidence in the company in his first AGM since two fatal crashes of the 737 Max triggered the jet's grounding, lawsuits and investigations.

Boeing CEO also faced shareholders for 1st time since 737 Max crashes claimed 346 lives

Manant Vaidya is joined by his wife Hiral, left, as he speaks in his Brampton, Ont., home on March 11 about losing his parents, sister, brother-in-law and two nieces in the Ethiopian Airlines Flight ET302 crash. The families of Canadians killed in last month's crash launched lawsuits against Boeing on Monday. (Tijana Martin/The Canadian Press)

The families of Canadians killed in the Ethiopian Airlines crash last month have launched a lawsuit against plane-maker Boeing.

Lawyers in Chicago and San Francisco have filed the suit on behalf of a Brampton, Ont., family who lost six members and a Hamilton-based man who lost his wife and three young children.

All 157 people aboard Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 were killed when the Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft en route from Addis Ababa to Nairobi crashed on March 10.

Lawyers for the families behind the lawsuit allege Boeing was blinded by greed as it rushed its 737 Max 8 jets to market, claiming the company put profits over safety.

The families have also filed a claim against the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration, alleging the regulator enabled the plane's rush to market.

The allegations have not been proven in court.

These are the latest among numerous lawsuits filed on behalf of dozens of crash victims.

News from the Canadian victims' families comes on the same day that Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg tried to bolster shareholder confidence in the company on Monday in his first general meeting since two fatal crashes of the 737 Max triggered the jet's grounding and subsequent investigations.

Battling the biggest crisis of his tenure, Muilenburg said the company was making steady progress toward getting approval for new software as questions linger over the safety of its fastest-selling airplane.

Family and friends of 24-year-old American Samya Stumo, another one of the victims of the Ethiopian Airlines crash, held a silent protest outside the meeting site in a cold and rainy Chicago.

That crash, which killed all on board when it plunged to the ground shortly after takeoff, came five months after a similar Lion Air nose-dive that killed all 189 passengers and crew.

Daniel Johnson, a Boeing shareholder on and off since 1984, said it had been "a great investment, better than anything else." But Johnson, who is an engineer, said Boeing "really stubbed their toe" by allowing MCAS to rely on only one sensor, referring to the anti-stall system.

"The question is, will they need to rebrand. We don't know how much the general public actually knows what a 737 Max is," said Johnson outside the meeting.

Pressure for software fix

Boeing is under pressure to deliver a software fix to prevent erroneous data triggering the MCAS anti-stall system and a new pilot training package that will convince global regulators, and the flying public, that the aircraft is safe.

Boeing has acknowledged that the accidental firing of the software based on bad sensor data was a common link in the separate chains of events leading to the two accidents.

"We know we can break this link in the chain. It's our responsibility to eliminate this risk," Muilenburg told shareholders.

About 150 shareholders gathered in the auditorium of the neoclassical Chicago Field Museum for the meeting.

During the meeting, one shareholder asked Muilenburg what Boeing was doing on safety assessments following the crashes. The CEO said the company's commitment to safety has not wavered.

"Safety is at the core of what we do. Every day, we try to get better," Muilenburg said.

Muilenburg held his first news conference since the grounding after the general annual shareholder meeting in Chicago on Monday, exactly six months after the Lion Air crash.

Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg, shown being interviewed in New York on Nov. 13, 2018, faced shareholders Monday for the first time since two fatal crashes of its Boeing 737 Max planes. (Richard Drew/The Associated Press)

CEO faced motion to strip a title

Muilenburg is Boeing's chairman and president in addition to CEO, and faced calls to strip him of one of those titles at Monday's meeting, but a motion to split the chairman and CEO roles did not pass.

Asked at the news conference if he has considered resigning, Muilenburg cited his 34 years with the company and said, "We know that lives depend on us.… I'm very focused on safety going forward. I am strongly vested in that, and my clear intent is to continue to lead on the front of safety and quality and integrity." 

The U.S. FAA could clear Boeing's 737 Max jet to fly in late May or the first part of June, two people familiar with the matter said on Friday, though Boeing has yet to submit the updated software and training for review.

Some pilots have warned that draft training proposals do not go far enough to address their concerns.

Meanwhile, deliveries of the 737 Max, which airlines around the world had been relying on to service a growing air travel industry for years to come, are on hold.

Last week, Boeing abandoned its 2019 financial outlook, halted share buybacks and said lowered production due to the 737 Max grounding had cost it at least $1 billion US so far.

A Boeing 737 Max 8 sits outside the hangar during a media tour at the Boeing plant in Renton, Wash., on Dec. 8, 2015. (Matt Mills/Reuters)

Shares lose nearly 10% of value

Shareholders have filed a lawsuit accusing the company of defrauding them by concealing safety deficiencies in the plane. The model is also the target of investigations by U.S. transportation authorities and the Department of Justice.

Boeing must also contend with lawsuits filed on behalf of dozens of victims of the two crashes.

In addition to the new lawsuits filed Monday on behalf of Canadian families, the victim lawsuits also include one on behalf of the family of Stumo. They're asking whether the Ethiopian disaster could have been prevented after what happened to Lion Air.

"Those in charge of creating and selling this plane did not treat Samya as they would their own daughters," her mother, Nadia Milleron, told reporters in early April.

Shares in the company, worth $214 billion, have lost nearly 10 per cent of their value since the March 10 crash.

With files from Reuters and CBC News