New passenger lawsuit targets Alaska Airlines along with Boeing after 737 Max 9 fuselage blowout

SEATTLE — Four Alaska Airlines passengers aboard the Boeing 737 Max 9 plane when a piece of fuselage blew out earlier this month have sued both the manufacturer and the airline.

The lawsuit, filed Tuesday morning in King County Superior Court in Seattle, is the first against Alaska Airlines since the Jan. 5 incident, according to Mark Lindquist, an attorney representing the passengers. Lindquist also represented the families of dozens of victims after two fatal crashes in 2018 and 2019 involving the Boeing 737 Max 8.

In this case, Alaska Airlines Flight 1282 was operating a Boeing 737 Max 9 on a flight out of Portland when a door plug meant to cover a hole where an emergency exit could be installed broke loose at 16,000 feet in the air.

The plane returned safely to Portland, where some passengers were treated for non-life-threatening injuries. The seats closest to the panel that blew out were empty.

But passengers on board the nearly full flight worried the hole in the side of the aircraft could have led to more disastrous consequences, Lindquist alleges.

“Plaintiffs feared the gaping hole in the fuselage, rapid depressurization, and general havoc was a prelude to the plane’s destruction,” Lindquist wrote in a news release Tuesday. “Some passengers were sending what they thought would be their final text messages in this world.”

[Boeing and U.S. aerospace set back by Alaska Airlines fuselage blowout]


The passengers named in the lawsuit — a school psychologist and a teacher from California, a college student from Washington, and a business analyst from Washington — are asking for compensation for physical injuries, emotional distress, and economic losses, including medical and travel expenses.

Boeing and Alaska operated a “defective and unsafe” aircraft, and failed to properly test, inspect and maintain the plane to ensure it was safe for passengers, the lawsuit alleges.

A group of six passengers and one family member sued Boeing last week in a proposed class action lawsuit, alleging the manufacturer owes them and the other 165 passengers aboard Flight 1282 compensation for injuries sustained during the incident.

Boeing declined to comment on both lawsuits.

The company has said in statements last week that it is “committed to ensuring every Boeing airplane meets design specifications and the highest safety and quality standards.”

In the most recent lawsuit, the passengers allege Alaska is also to blame because the airline decided to fly the plane after an earlier decision not to fly that aircraft over the ocean.

In the days before the flight that ended with a hole in the side of the plane, Alaska had experienced several depressurization warning incidents involving the Max 9, causing confusion and anger from some passengers about whether Flight 1282 should have taken off at all.

But last week, Jennifer Homendy, chair of the National Transportation Safety Board, said she did not believe the incidents were related and discounted the likelihood of negligence by the airline. The NTSB is leading the investigation into the fuselage blowout.

Homendy said at the time that Alaska’s decision to move forward with the flight made sense. The Max cabin pressurization is a triple redundant system, with primary and secondary computer controllers backed up by a manual option for the pilots.

Intermittent warning lights indicating a brief reduction in cabin pressurization had occurred on flights on Dec. 7, Jan. 3 and Jan. 4. In those cases, the primary controllers had gone down but the secondary system kicked in with no significant impact.

“At this time, we have no indications whatsoever that this correlated in any way to the expulsion of the door plug and the rapid decompression,” Homendy said.

But, Lindquist wrote in a news release announcing the litigation, Alaska’s decision “endangered passengers.”

Alaska CEO Ben Minicucci said in a letter posted on Alaska’s website right after the incident that the company is sorry for what passengers experienced and grateful for the response of its pilots and flight attendants.

Alaska refunded passengers on Flight 1282 and, within 24 hours, provided each with a $1,500 cash payment “as an immediate gesture of care,” according to the airline. The payment was intended to “cover any incidental expenses to ensure their immediate needs were taken care of.”

The company said Tuesday it could not comment on pending litigation.

Lindquist said in an interview Tuesday he expects the number of lawsuits — and the number of passengers named in the litigation — to continue to grow.

“Every passenger on that plane is affected differently,” he said, adding that the damages each individual seeks will depend on where they were seated, their “personal make up” and how they are faring now.

“The evidence is going to be different for each person,” Lindquist continued. “Some people are still processing how they feel.”