- Boeing starts accepting claims from families affected by Ethiopian, Lion Air 737 Max 8 crashes.
- The money comes from a $50 million financial assistance fund announced in July.
- Lawyers advise families of the crash victims to accept any offers from Boeing, but not to withdraw their lawsuits.
Aircraft manufacturer Boeing has started receiving applications from families that lost loved ones in the Ethiopian Airlines crash in March.
The BBC reported on Tuesday that the applications should be made before 2020 and that each family will be entitled to $144,500 (Sh15 million).
"The money comes from a $50 million financial assistance fund, which Boeing announced in July," reported the BBC.
A number of lawyers representing affected families have rejected the offer but, according to Murang’a Senator Irungu Kang'ata, whose law firm is part of a team representing 15 Kenyan families, the Boeing "gift" is welcome.
"The gift from Boeing is welcome as long as it does not have strings attached to it," Mr Kang'ata told Nation.
"Boeing should not use the gift as a ploy to influence the jury. It should also disclose the methods of disbursement of those funds noting so far the information remains hazy," he added.
Lawyers opposed to the move told the BBC that the amount is too small.
"$144,000 doesn't come close to compensating any of our families or any of the families," Nomaan Husain, a Texas-based attorney who is representing 15 families.
In a press briefing in July after Boeing announced the offer, Mr Kang’ata and Nairobi-based lawyer Stephen Gachie, whose respective law firms are in a coalition with two other firms in the US, said the families they represented had rejected an out-of-court settlement from Boeing.
The families, they said, had decided to go the long haul in cases filed in Chicago against the manufacturer of the 737 Max plane that crashed on March 10, killing all the 157 on board.
“We did appear before a judge on June 17 for a status conference. All lawyers representing various victims were present. During that status conference, the lawyer for Boeing made a settlement offer,” Mr Kang’ata told journalists in Nairobi.
“We sought instructions from our clients and so far, our clients have rejected negotiations out of court,” he added.
Swaying the jury?
He noted that Boeing made a similar request during a second hearing on June 27, asking that the case should not proceed before the families consider its offer.
The judge, however, ruled that they can be negotiating with the families as the case proceeds.
“We are happy with that ruling by the judge. We shall soon commence the disclosure processes — that is, parties exchanging various documents that they may be having. After that, a hearing date will be fixed by court,” said Mr Kang’ata.
Mr Gachie said Boeing’s move could be an attempt to get a certain perception from the jury that will be hearing the matter.
“One may argue that the idea by Boeing was meant to sway the minds of the jury that will be making a determination on the cases that have been filed in Chicago. They want to persuade the jury that ‘we are already remorseful’ so that it can be considerate to them,” said the advocate.
The lawyers advised families of the crash victims to accept any offers from Boeing, but not to be persuaded to withdraw a lawsuit against the world’s biggest aircraft manufacturer.
“Ideally, what Boeing are doing is to apologise in a colourful manner. And any apology is acceptable; but any apology that is offered does not eliminate the need to seek reparations. So, we will encourage the victims to take it as it comes but nonetheless to proceed and pursue their individual claims against the company,” Mr Gachie said.
Boeing says that accepting their offer does not negate anyone's intent to sue.