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Asiana passengers look to sue airline, Boeing over crash

A law firm representing more than 80 passengers on Asiana Airlines Flight 214, which crash-landed in San Francisco on July 6, files a 'petition for discovery.'

July 16, 2013|By Victoria Kim and W.J. Hennigan
  • The wreckage of Asiana Airlines Flight 214 is moved from a runway at San Francisco International Airport.
The wreckage of Asiana Airlines Flight 214 is moved from a runway at San Francisco… (John G. Mabanglo / European…)

More than 80 passengers who were aboard Asiana Flight 214 when it crash-landed in San Francisco have taken steps toward a lawsuit against the airline and Boeing Co., the plane's manufacturer, attorneys representing the survivors announced Tuesday.

The Chicago-based firm Ribbeck Law Chartered filed a "petition for discovery" Monday against Boeing, asking the Circuit Court of Cook County in Illinois to order the manufacturer to turn over information on the design and parts suppliers of the Boeing 777 aircraft that clipped a sea wall and hurtled across the runway at San Francisco International Airport. Three passengers ultimately died and more than 180 people were hurt.

Attorneys cited the possibility that the plane's auto-throttle malfunctioned, and said seat belts and evacuation slides that inflated inward may have contributed to passengers' injuries.

Attorney Monica Kelly said a lawsuit naming Asiana, Boeing and other parts manufacturers would be filed in the coming weeks. Kelly said her firm represents 83 of the flight's 291 passengers, some of whom are still hospitalized with spinal injuries, neck injuries or brain trauma. Three Chinese teenagers who died and their families are not represented in the planned lawsuit.

One of the passengers represented by the firm is Zhang Yuan, who suffered severe spinal injuries and a broken leg.

"My husband, my daughter, other passengers and I would not have suffered such terrible injuries if the sliding ramps and the seat belts would not have trapped us in the burning wreckage," Zhang said, according to a statement released by the firm.

Aviation experts expressed surprise at the announcement of a planned lawsuit, saying it may be premature before the National Transportation Safety Board completes its investigation, which could take more than a year.

"This is one of the more unusual things I've heard," said Richard Aboulafia, an aerospace analyst with Teal Group Corp., a Virginia research firm. "You don't hear of much success with cases like these, particularly involving an aircraft with such a stellar safety record."

Since Boeing rolled out the 777 — or "triple seven" — in 1994, more than 1,100 have been built and only one has been in a major accident, with no fatalities.

In 2008, a 777 operated by British Airways crash-landed at London's Heathrow Airport. An investigation into the crash found that the plane, carrying 152 passengers, had lost power because a buildup of ice had restricted fuel flow into the engines.

Sixty-five passengers and crew from that crash sued Boeing and Rolls Royce, which manufactured the aircraft's engines. That suit was settled last year for an undisclosed sum.

Boeing released a statement the day after the July 6 crash of the Asiana flight, offering condolences to families of the deceased and saying the company had a technical team on site to assist the NTSB investigation. Representatives for Boeing and Asiana Airlines declined to comment Tuesday on the planned lawsuit.

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