Boeing heads to court amid fight over release of 737 MAX documents

Lawyers representing victims of a 737 MAX crash want documents related to the aircraft's design, development and two fatal disasters

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Boeing Co heads to court on Wednesday to dispute a request from lawyers representing victims of a 737 MAX crash for documents related to the aircraft's design, development and two fatal disasters.

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Chicago-based Boeing is facing around 100 lawsuits by families of 157 victims of a Ethiopian Airlines 737 MAX crash on March 10, five months after a similar accident on a Lion Air flight that killed 189 people.

Lawyers for the victims' families are asking why Boeing and U.S. regulators allowed the MAX to continue flying after the Lion Air disaster and whether the planemaker hid materials from crash investigators.

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"Whether and to what extent Boeing withheld materials relevant to the design failures on the 737 Max aircraft from the Lion Air investigators is critical to the question of liability and punitive damages,'' lawyers for the Ethiopian crash victims said in a court filing.

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Their arguments were made as part of a joint status report ahead of Wednesday's hearing in U.S. federal court in Chicago.

A Boeing 737 MAX 8 airplane. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Boeing is in the process of settling a separate batch of lawsuits related to the Lion Air crash, but families of the Ethiopian crash are seeking a jury trial.

The 737 MAX, once Boeing's fastest-selling aircraft, has been grounded globally since mid-March while the company addresses software and training issues involved in both disasters.

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Plaintiffs lawyers will ask U.S. Magistrate Judge David Weisman to rule on their request for a log of the documents that Boeing has withheld.

Boeing has argued that the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) - the independent U.S. government investigative agency responsible for civil transportation accident investigations - is restricting the release of certain materials.

However, in a new letter to Boeing, the NTSB seemed to switch its stance on some documents, saying it has now determined that the planemaker may release "any and all documents in its possession'' that it had not shared with the agency as part of investigations into the Lion Air and Ethiopian crashes.

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On a separate matter, Boeing has agreed to schedule a deposition of 737 MAX chief engineer John Hamilton on April 15 or 16, but the parties are still discussing terms and other requests.

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(Reporting by Tracy Rucinski; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)