Boeing Settles Landmark Case To Fight Attendant Exposure To Aircraft Toxic Fumes


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Boeing Settles Landmark Case To Fight Attendant Exposure To Aircraft Toxic Fumes

By Mike Mitchell

October 9, 2011 - Mrs. Terry Williams, mother-of-two, a former flight attendant of American Airlines has won a unreported cash settlement from aircraft manufacture, the Boeing Company. Williams filed a lawsuit in King County Superior Court alleging she was exposed to toxic fumes while on a McDonnell Douglas MD-82 Aircraft which left her permanently disable.  

Williams alleged Boeing violated Washington state law, Liability of manufacturer, Revised Code of Washington (RCW), RCW 7.72.030. That is, a product manufacturer is subject to liability to a claimant if the claimant's harm was proximately caused by the negligence of the manufacturer in that the product was not reasonably safe as designed or not reasonably safe because adequate warnings or instructions were not provided. 

Williams lawsuit stated Boeing did not "retrofitted their aircraft with either sensors or air filtration systems designed to detect or eliminate and or minimize vaporized and or pyrolized engine oil and or hydraulic fluid and its byproducts and or other toxic substances under normal operations." 

The McDonnell Douglas company design, engineered, manufactured, assembled and tested MD-82 aircraft. On August 1, 1997, the Boeing Company merged with McDonnell Douglas and in 1998 Boeing acquired the Type Certificate for the MD-82 aircraft line. On April 11, 2007, Williams was working as a first class flight attendant onboard an MD-82 aircraft, FAA registration number N558AA as American Airlines Flight on a flight from Memphis International Airport to Dallas, Fort Worth International Airport. 

While onboard the aircraft Williams was exposed to toxic fumes that entered the passenger cabin through the air delivery system. The toxic fumes entered the passenger cabin through the air delivery system as a result of, alleged product defect. The toxic fumes that Williams was exposed to were comprised of contaminated bleed air. Bleed air is the outside air fraction of the cabin supply air that is first compressed in the aircraft engines or Auxiliary Power Unit and which, as a result of the product defect alleged, is prone to contamination with high temperature engine oil and hydraulic fluid and their byproducts under normal operating conditions.


Williams alleged that during taxi to the gate she was exposed to smoke and fumes at which time her eyes began to water, her throat became tight and she began to cough. Over the course of the next several days Williams developed coughing spasms and a persistent and painful unremitting headache. She then stayed home for six days and her symptoms continued to worsen. 

On April 19, 2007 Williams reported to work in San Francisco, California where she presented to her supervisor. She was unable to stop coughing and unable to perform her duties as a flight attendant. Williams went to the Emergency Room at St. Mary's Hospital in San Francisco, CA. As a result of her exposure to contaminated bleed air Williams has suffered and continues to suffer severe physical and emotional injuries, which included limited to Reactive Airways Dysfunction Syndrome.  

Williams condition also included trouble breathing, coughing and bronchial-spasms, sore throat and shortness of breath, depression, insomnia, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, gastrointestinal distress, persistent migraines, nausea, fatigue, neurological impairment, cognitive deficiencies and central and peripheral nervous system damage including memory loss, dizziness, weakness, disorientation, loss of balance, vision impairment, uncontrollable tremors, and numbness and tingling in her hands, arms, shoulders and feet. 

Williams has been unable to return to work as a result of her illness and the symptoms. Williams' doctors attribute her illness and symptoms to her exposure to smoke and or fumes inside the passenger cabin on April 19, 2007. Boeing and the airline industry maintain that cabin air, compressed air pumped or 'bled,' from the plane's engine is safe. 

Williams' suit is the first landmark case of its type to be settled in the United States. However, an Australian court in September 2010 found aircraft manufacturer British Aerospace liable for Joanne Turner who was five months pregnant and flight attendant for East West Airlines who became ill after being exposed to smoke in the cabin on British built BAE 146 aircraft from Sydney to Brisbane in 1992.


This ruling was the landmark case for the airline industry. Turner was awarded ?84,000 in damages from the Court. Turner stated "I just hope it will help fellow crew members who also have cases before the courts and help the industry become safer," she said.

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