In the wake of the Ethiopian Airlines plane crash on March 10, 2019 dozens of American law firms are visiting Addis Ababa and talking to the families of victims of the accident. The law firms are under preparation to sue the aircraft manufacturer, Boeing. Three American and French law firms-Nolan Law Group, Montoya Law and Martin-Chico-have established a partnership agreement to jointly file charges against Boeing in a US court. Kaleyesus Bekele of The Reporter spoke to head of the Montoya Law firm, Edward Montoya who argues that Boeing is at fault. Excerpts:
The Reporter: Tell us a brief history of your law firm? When it was established and the major litigation it handled?
Edward Montoya: Three internationally recognized law firms have joined forces to tackle the Boeing Corporation in what may be the most important case in aviation history. The Nolan Law Group of Chicago, Illinois, Montoya Law, PA based in Miami, Florida and The Martin-Chico Group with offices in Bordeaux, France have come together to investigate and represent families victimized in two major air disaster accidents, the Lion Air crash of October 29th, 2018 and the Ethiopian Airlines accident of March 10th, 2019. The group is composed of very experienced attorneys, all of whom have litigated and taken to trial a host of domestic and international aviation disaster cases.
The Nolan Law Group carries an outstanding international reputation as being a relentless and “hard core” advocate for its clients in the pursuit of fair and just compensation. Among its many accomplishments, the firm obtained a USD 115.75 million verdict for three victims of a 2013 cargo plane crash in Afghanistan, the 19th largest verdict in the United States since 2017. It has been lead counsel and has received various steering committee appointments in cases handled in the US resulting from accidents in Africa, Asia, Latin America and elsewhere. In one of many notable cases, the firm successfully represented over 41 families in the 1999 Egypt Air, Flight 990 crash involving a Boeing 767 aircraft, were it defeated Boeing’s motions to dismiss the cases on forum non convenience (fnc) grounds. Boeing attempted to force families to travel to New York for depositions and trial. Instead, the firm was able to force Boeing to mediate its cases at the Egyptian Court of Cassation, in Cairo, with a sitting judge from the US federal court in New York. This mediation resulted in great results for the families.
Similarly, Montoya Law, PA, with over 26 years of domestic and international crash experience, is known for its vigorous, yet efficient handling of aviation and product liability cases on a global scale. The firm has had much success in defeating motions to dismiss on fnc grounds in a multitude of cases, including the crew cases in the In Re West Caribbean Airways, and many others. In another case, Montoya Law, PA, along with the Nolan Law Group, were successful in defeating Boeing’s motion to dismiss passenger cases on fnc grounds to Peru, South America.
Also, members of Montoya Law, PA have been on steering committees as counsel for large groups of cases. Among its accomplishments, the firm has resolved dozens of air disaster and product liability cases with a collective value in excess of USD 50 million. Montoya Law, PA is an important Miami, Florida law firm handling product liability cases, according to US News and World Report.
The Martin-Chico Group offers clients an impressive repertoire of trials and accomplishments in air disaster cases against some of the largest aircraft manufacturers in the world, including Boeing. The group has handled air disaster cases throughout the world and is considered the premier plaintiff’s aviation firm in Europe. They have successfully filed and kept air disaster cases in Europe despite the foreign origin of the crashes. The Martin-Chico Group has achieved dozens of multi-million dollar resolutions for its clients and has some of the highest settlements for any European law firm specializing in aviation law. They work closely with their US partners in developing legal strategies, hiring the best aviation experts for a case and in litigating matters where a US court has dismissed a case on jurisdictional or venue grounds.
Together, the three firms form the A-Team of aviation litigation and have the collective power, knowledge and experience to effectively prosecute claims against the industry’s largest and most powerful aircraft manufacturer, Boeing. They benefit from a combined experience of over 100 air disaster and crash related cases occurring in the US, Europe, Africa and Asia. The group’s strategies and experience are unique and important for families, which distinguishes them from their competitors. Competitors simply don’t have the same experiences and results.
Now you are under preparation to work on Ethiopian Airlines B737-MAX 8 aircraft disaster. Why do you want to sue Boeing? Is Boeing at fault? What are your circumstantial evidences?
The unfortunate series of accidents leading to the deaths of 346 passengers, flight attendants and flight crews in both the Ethiopian Airlines, Flight 302 (March 10th, 2019) and Lion Air, Flight 610 (October 29th, 2018) crashes illustrate a disturbing pattern of defects in aircraft design and manufacturing by Boeing. Even more troubling is mounting evidence that Boeing failed to properly categorize the Max 8 aircraft as a newly designed aircraft for certification. Boeing failed to advise the FAA and its airline clients of this fact and the need for additional pilot training and materials for the Max 8.
Boeing is being sued in Chicago, Illinois, the location of its headquarters, because as the manufacturer of the 737 Max 8 aircraft, it coordinated the design, manufacturing, marketing/sales and distribution of the B737 Max 8 aircraft from that city and state. Our lawsuits in the Lion Air cases were filed the US Federal Court for the Northern District of Illinois and we have been assigned Judge Durkin.
The evidence thus far includes: the initial conclusions of the Indonesian transport safety committee (KNKT) highlighting the AOA sensors and MCAS system as possible causes of the Lion Air crash. Secondly FAA directive in December 2018 recognizing issues with the MCAS system. Third the determination of FAA to ground all 737 Max 8 air crafts, and 4) Boeing’s CEO, Dennis Muilenburg’s, televised and world-wide announcement that “It is our responsibility to eliminate this risk. We own it and we know how to do it.” Additional direct evidence is currently being gathered by the US Congress investigating Boeing, experts hired by our team to investigate the crash, and documents and testimony that will be collected as part of our lawsuits against Boeing in the Lion Air proceedings as the litigation of these cases develop and progress.
Can these cases be overseen in the US courts since the accident occurred in Ethiopia?
Both the Ethiopian Airlines and Lion Air crashes can be heard in a US court of law. US courts have jurisdiction over Boeing, especially the US federal court for the Northern District of Illinois, where Boeing’s headquarters is located. The relevant issue of whether the judge will keep the cases, after being filed, is a discretionary function and is only relevant if Boeing moves to dismiss the cases to another state or country. There have been many cases involving international crashes where Boeing has been successful in having cases dismissed to other countries, years after they were initially filed in the United States. However, no other case in the history of US aviation raises the high degree of public safety concerns, the possible issues of FAA involvement, admission of fault by Boeing’s CEO, involvement of the US Congress in investigating possible criminal conduct by Boeing. The issues seen in these cases point to the US as the proper jurisdiction and venue for a determination of liability and damages. Justice would be better served if a US court keeps these cases. However, in the event that Boeing successfully convinces the court to dismiss our cases from the Northern district of Illinois, we are prepared to proceed judicially against Boeing in a way that would benefit the families in other jurisdictions.
You have litigation of the Lion Air Flight 610. How is the case proceeding?
We are co-counsel with a Chicago law firm, the Nolan Law Group, located in Chicago, Illinois. The proceedings in Chicago are moving along well and Boeing is fighting the cases vigorously. Boeing has filed an answer to our complaints and have raised over 18 defenses, denied liability and have expressed an intent to the court that it will seek to have the Lion Air cases dismissed and sent to Indonesia for a court to determine liability and damages. Boeing’s legal posturing in the litigation is a marked difference from its acceptance of liability “we own it and know how to do it” a pseudo-conciliatory message that appeared to have been prepared for brand protection, prime time TV and for social media purposes. We are currently preparing motions to ask the court to force Boeing to quickly unveil its intentions. We are confident that we will successfully defeat any motions to dismiss the cases to Indonesia or any other jurisdiction.
Now many law firms are coming to Ethiopia to handle the ET302 cases. The victims’ families are overwhelmed by visiting lawyers. What makes your law firm different?
Both the Ethiopian Airlines and Lion Air crashes are historic cases because of the manufacturing problems, Boeing’s involvement, and the immense travel safety issues. These cases represent a massive loss of innocent lives, exposure to immense liability to Boeing and the possibility that 737 Max 8 air crafts will be permanently grounded thereby damaging Boeing’s brand name.
What makes us unique is that together we have more air disaster litigation experience than any other law firm that presently handles these type cases. This experience gives us the ability to offer the families a global solution and the weapons essential to counterbalance the awesome muscle that Boeing will flex to oppose us in terms of judicial and technical issues. Some families mistakenly believe that the simple filing of a lawsuit in US is a guaranty to a fair and reasonable compensation package and that once an official accident investigation report is released, the case is over and liability is clear. Sadly, that is not the case and our experience tells us that the filing of a lawsuit against Boeing is simply the beginning of an effort to seek what is fair and just. We always remain positive about our abilities to succeed in international cases but make sure that clients understand that there are no guarantees of success in any case until achieved. We have a team of highly qualified, respected and experienced law firms that have the ability to successfully litigate lawsuits both in the United States and in Europe, something that many law firms cannot offer clients. Over the years we have developed highly successful litigation strategies that have allowed our cases to maintain their high value while we litigate in various countries.