The start of a cascade of claims against Boeing leading to a class action or a one off settlement?

By Victoria October 7, 2011 14:26

The start of a cascade of claims against Boeing leading to a class action or a one off settlement?

Terry Williams, a 42 year old mother of two, is a name that will either fade within hours of reading this comment or a name that will be remembered as the start of a cascade of claims against aircraft manufacturers. The former American Airlines flight attendant is the first person in the USA to settle a lawsuit against Boeing over claims of faulty aircraft design that allowed toxic fumes to reach the cabin, triggering alleged tremors, memory loss and severe headaches.

Terry Williams says her life was changed by a single exposure, when toxic smoke and oil fumes leaked into her MD82 aircraft cabin on April 11, 2007, as flight AA843 from Memphis to Dallas taxied to the gate.

Her eyes began to water, her throat tightened, she began to cough and she developed a headache that remains to this day. She said she was left with memory loss, recurrent tremors, disabling coughing spasms, fatigue, nausea, speech impairment, loss of balance, vision impairment, and numbness and tingling in her hands, arms, shoulders and feet. Workers compensation doctors in San Francisco diagnosed her with neurotoxic disorder due to exposure to the fumes. This diagnosis lead Williams to sue McDonnell Douglas and its now parent company, Boeing, in King County, Wash., Superior Court in 2009, claiming the airplane manufacturer knew the plane and its bleed-air system were defective and did nothing to protect Williams or other passengers and crew members.

Details of the settlement are confidential, as one would expect, but 250,000 pages of Boeing company documents dated 1954/55 turned over to the plaintiff’s legal team by Boeing seem certain to provide enough ammunition for other claims in the near term as they prove that MD/Boeing was aware of the possible problem. Boeing should be worried, as should investors in the same as it transpires that the Association of Flight Attendants, CWA, is typically dealing with at least three new cases a week involving crew members exposed to fumes. They say many calls come from crew members on their way to the emergency room or urgent care clinics.

Boeing, acknowledging the settlement with Williams, said it “still contends that cabin air is safe to breathe and studies by independent researchers have consistently shown that existing systems for providing cabin air to passengers and crew meet applicable health and safety standards”.

But stricken airline crews and their advocates say faulty “bleed-air” systems have been causing health problems dating back to the takeoff of jet travel in the 1950s. In severe cases, they say, exposure to the toxic fumes has cost afflicted pilots their jobs when they lost medical clearances and kept flight attendants from working. Moreover, passengers are not informed what they may have breathed and can be endangered if pilots experience aerotoxicity symptoms such as drowsiness, disorientation and memory loss as a result of exposure, the advocates say

Claims are rare but could gather pace…..

Boeing, along with other manufacturers, has relied on bleed-air systems since it began
building commercial aircraft in the early 1950s. It is only now with the advent of the 787 that the air circulation systems have been changed dramatically.

In April 2011 sixteen US Airways pilots and flight attendants sued ST Aerospace Mobile, over what they said was improper maintenance at its Mobile servicing center that resulted in six fume events aboard the same Boeing 767 from Dec. 28, 2009, to April 25, 2010. Among the plaintiffs’ symptoms were headaches, sore throats, eye irritations, dizziness and nausea. Some also complained of fatigue and cognitive difficulties. At least two plaintiffs were pilots who lost their medical clearances. One was carried from a 767 on a stretcher after landing.

In August, the union representing US Airways flight attendants sent a letter to FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt seeking an investigation of 87 purported air supply contamination events in 2009 and 2010, 41 of which were confirmed with mechanical records as oil-contamination events.

In September 2010 BAE suffered from litigation after a woman who was five months pregnant at the time in 1992 breathed thick smoke entering the cabin of a BAe 146 on a Sydney to Brisbane flight. Following the exposure, she suffered a burning throat, sore eyes, a headache and a persistent cough. She sued East-West in 2001. In September 2010, the Australia High Court upheld her A$138,757 award. A lower court found that it could have been foreseen that the breakdown of seals on the plane’s auxiliary power unit would allow toxic oil fumes to enter the cabin.

By Victoria October 7, 2011 14:26
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