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737 MAX crash victims seek U.S. legislation to block Boeing legal strategy

An employee walks past a Boeing 737 Max aircraft seen parked at the Renton Municipal Airport in Renton

By Tracy Rucinski

CHICAGO (Reuters) – Families of Boeing 737 MAX crash victims are urging U.S. lawmakers to ensure the planemaker is held accountable for accidents that together killed 346 people by blocking a key legal defense, according to a letter sent on Tuesday and seen by Reuters. Chicago-based Boeing Co <BA.N> is facing around 100 lawsuits by families of 157 victims of an Ethiopian Airlines 737 MAX crash and has argued that because the aircraft was certified by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration, it is immune from liability, court filings show.

But families say manufacturers should not be allowed to “hide behind” FAA certification when a certified airplane turns out to be defective.

“No amount of regulation should shield Boeing and other manufacturers from responsibility when airplanes crash and kill innocent people,” they wrote in the letter to bipartisan leaders of the Senate Commerce Committee.

Boeing spokesman Gordon Johndroe said: “Boeing has offered to work with the victims’families to schedule mediations to discuss settlement of claims on terms that fairly compensate them and are committed to this mediation process.”

However, some families are pursuing a jury trial, which would give liability lawyers greater access to Boeing’s internal records and expose the company to deeper scrutiny over its relations with the FAA.

The 737 MAX crash in Ethiopia occurred just five months after a similar disaster on a Lion Air flight in Indonesia. It triggered a global grounding of the aircraft, which has been parked for 18 months.

“Accountability is the best way to encourage the design and manufacture of safe airplanes—so this does not happen again,” said the families of Ethiopian Airlines Flight ET302.

The letter comes ahead of a Senate Commerce Committee vote on Wednesday on sweeping reforms to how the FAA certifies new aircraft.

Boeing has already settled the majority of lawsuits related to the Lion Air crash but is still the target of a U.S. federal criminal probe and investigations by U.S. lawmakers and aviation and transportation authorities.

(Reporting by Tracy Rucinski; Editing by Tim Hepher and Tom Brown)

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