Lawsuits Against Boeing Drive Record High Airplane Product Liability Filings in 2019

A flurry of civil lawsuits against Boeing in the wake of its 737 MAX crashes have largely driven record high product liability filings in federal court. FY 2019 was the peak year for these filings when a total of 189 new airplane product liability lawsuits were filed. The lion's share of these were against the Boeing Company. As of the end of January 2020, filings have subsided but remain higher than normal with 28 filings during the first four months of FY 2020-greater than the total filings of 23 such suits during all of FY 2018.

FY 2019 saw the largest number of federal airplane product liability suits since FY 2008, higher even than the previous record of 186 suits filed during FY 2010. These results are based upon an analysis of case-by-case court records analyzed by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University. See Figure 1.

Figure 1. Airplane Product Liability Civil Suits in Federal Court, FY 2008 - FY 2020 (projected)
(Click for larger image)

Well-documented issues with Boeing's 737 MAX airplane led to a massive growth in lawsuits against The Boeing Company in FY 2019, which made up 164 (87%) of cases in FY 2019. Boeing had zero liability cases filed against it in FY 2018.

The vast majority of lawsuits—98 percent—against Boeing in FY 2019 were filed in Chicago, Illinois, where the company is headquartered. Out of 19 other defendants besides Boeing listed in court records, most (75%) had just one liability lawsuit and only Continental Motors, Inc. had as many as three liability lawsuits. In FY 2020 so far 20 out of 28—or 71 percent—of federal airplane product liability cases were filed against Boeing, which suggests that the litigation against the company will continue to drive the growth in cases in this area. See Table 1.

Table 1. Airplane Product Liability Civil Suits in Federal Court, FY 2019 and FY 2020*
Defendants (FY 2019) Number of Suits
Aero Accessories, LLC 1
Aerolineas Damojh, S.A. et al. 1
Airbus Helicopters Incorporated et al. 1
Alexander et al. 1
Avco Corporation et al. 1
Boeing Company et al. 164
Continental Motors Incorporated et al. 3
Cutter Aviation San Antonio, Inc. et al 1
Delta Airlines, Inc. 1
Eagle Fuel Cells 1
First Advantage, LLC 1
High Line Helicopters, LLC et al. 2
Honeywell International, Inc. et al 2
Lockheed Martin Corporation et al 1
Mattituck Services, Inc. et. al. 1
Starnet Insurance Company et al 1
Stemme USA Inc. et al 1
Ternstrom et al. 1
Triumph Group, Inc. et al. 1
United Technologies Corporation 2
Other 1
FY 2019 189
Defendants (FY 2020*) Number of Suits
Avco Corporation et al. 2
Ballistic Recovery Systems, Inc. 1
Boeing Company et al. 20
Drug Fighter Enterprises 1
Eurotec Canada Limited 1
MD Helicopters, Inc., et al. 1
First Student, Inc. et al. 1
Airbus Americas, Inc. et al. 1
FY 2020* 28
* Only includes data for October - January of FY 2020

Each month, TRAC offers a free report focused on one area of civil litigation in the U.S. district courts. In addition, subscribers to the TRACFed data service can generate custom reports by district, office, nature of suit or federal jurisdiction via the TRAC Data Interpreter.