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Trial Spotlight: Southwest Airlines Flight 1380

boeing 737 in the sky after grounding by southwest airlines

On April 17, 2018, SWA Flight 1380 blew an engine after take off, while still climbing at 32000 feet, scheduled from New York – LaGuardia Airport to Dallas Love Field. Shrapnel from the engine struck the wing and fuselage, and broke a window in the passenger compartment, which caused rapid decompression and panic. A New Mexico businesswoman, wife, and mother of two, was sucked head first out of the Boeing 737-7H4 (N772SW) travelling at about 600 mph, breaking her neck and ultimately taking her life, as her body remained inside due to the fastened seatbelt. The plane made an emergency landing at Philadelphia International Airport.  This was the first death in nine years onboard a U.S. airliner.

Airplane crash lawyers at Wilshire Law Firm represented passengers from this incident. Although no clients had physical injuries, the emotional and mental trauma was severe and permanent, with many not being able to fly again for many years. Our investigation found that the CFM International engine that failed suffered a fatigue crack in one of the fan blades, which was not caught by Southwest maintenance personnel.

Recurring Problem

Unbelievably, almost two years prior, on August 27, 2016, another Southwest plane, with same engine model, experienced the exact same failure as it was on its way to Orlando from Louisiana.

Both Boeing planes were manufactured in 2000 with the same engine models.

The French engine manufacturer immediately issued a Service Bulletin requiring ultrasonic fan blade inspections in all of its engines of the same model, and, on May 2, 2018, the FAA issued a follow-up Airworthy Directive which required ultrasonic fan blade inspections at much lower cycles. 

We are issuing this AD because we evaluated all the relevant information and determined the unsafe condition described previously is likely to exist or develop in other products of the same type design.

Southwest Airlines Found to Have Frequent Safety Violations

Safety violations are nothing new for Southwest Airlines. During the investigation of this incident, maintenance workers alleged that Southwest pressured them into keeping the planes in the air even if it meant cutting corners. The Federal Aviation Administration’s investigation determined that safety was at risk because the workers had severe mistrust of their management. An example was when a worker reported a serious safety risk to Southwest management and was disciplined as a result, for doing work outside of his designated tasks.

In 2009, Southwest was fined by the FAA $7.5 million for failing to conduct metal fatigue inspections which were required on 46 of its planes. In 2014, Southwest was fined $12 million on allegations that more than 40 planes had improper repairs to their fuselage, and Southwest ultimately settled by paying $2.8 million.

Southwest Airlines’ Contract of Carriage Requires Experienced Aviation Counsel to Challenge

Most people do not realize that by purchasing a ticket and agreeing to fly with an airline, they also agree to the airlines’ terms in the Contract of Carriage, which is a contract outlining the different types of recourse available to passengers for various scenarios, including personal injury and death resulting while onboard their aircraft. Usually, there will be reference, in small print, to the contract of carriage when purchasing a ticket, and the onus is put on the passenger to look up the terms prior to purchase. By purchasing, the passenger agrees to the terms, unbeknownst to most people.

Southwest’s contract of carriage has some provisions which, if not known by the aviation lawyer, could result in dismissal of the passenger’s claim. For instance, there are shortened time limits to file claims for injuries, as stated in Section 10(a) of Southwest’s Contract of Carriage, which states the following:

  • No claim for personal injury or death of a Passenger will be entertained by Carrier unless written notice of such claim is received by Carrier within 21 days after the occurrence of the event giving rise to the claim;
  • No legal action on any claim described above may be maintained against Carrier unless commenced within one year of the Carrier’s written denial of a claim, in whole or in part.

This provision has shortened the time window to file lawsuits, which are generally two years in most states, by turning it into a complicated process whereby the injured passenger must send written notice of the claim within 21 days to Southwest, and then, after Southwest rejects the claim, must file the lawsuit within one year.  Not surprising, Southwest has prevailed against passengers in upholding this provision, however, skilled aviation lawyers can deem it unenforceable, just like the attorneys at Wilshire Law Firm did for its clients on Southwest Flight 1380.

Another dubious provision was one that was added by Southwest in 2010 to the “Force Majeur” (“Act of God”) section. The section states that Southwest has no obligation to provide compensation for “any type of special, incidental or consequential damages” for acts of God that are “outside of [Southwest’s] control,” including events like wars, riots, storms, and earthquakes. In 2010 Southwest determined that “mechanical difficulties” were also acts of God, and, therefore, not compensable. The first step in prosecuting an airliner is to go to court and deem provisions like this unenforceable so that the passenger can have her day in court, which is what attorneys at Wilshire Law Firm did for its Southwest clients.   

Choose Wilshire Law Firm

As these aging fleets continue to operate, we are seeing more and more component part failures due to the constant stresses and fatigue experienced by the almost nonstop operation of these aging planes. If you have been injured or lost a loved one, the competent aviation attorneys at the Wilshire Law Firm are ready to work on your behalf. Be weary of attorneys that say they do aviation cases, as they do not possess the specialized knowledge and experience required to obtain maximum recovery.

Wilshire Law Firm’s Aviation Attorneys

A. Ilyas Akbari is a senior partner and bioengineer at Wilshire Law Firm. He is an experienced aviation litigator and director of the firm’s aviation litigation team, having worked on over 200 aviation cases since 2005. Ilyas has litigated crashes and incidents involving commercial airlines, charter operations, general aviation aircraft, military aircraft, seaplanes, and rescue and air ambulance aircraft, in addition to litigating product liability claims against many of the aircraft and component part manufacturers – this includes 29 cases against Robinson Helicopter Company, Inc.