The basics of United’s 777 engine failure
On February 20, 2021, UA328 from Denver to Honolulu suffered a major engine failure shortly after takeoff. The Boeing 777-200 had a total of 241 people onboard, including 231 passengers and 10 crew members.
The right engine caught fire shortly after takeoff, and debris fell from the sky and into neighborhoods in the suburbs of Denver. Thanks to the excellent work of the pilots, the plane landed back in Denver just under 20 minutes after it took off. Fortunately no one was hurt.
An interesting twist to the story is that the replacement aircraft United used for these passengers was a 777-200 that suffered a very similar incident a few years back.
United faces class action lawsuit over engine failure
A class action lawsuit has been filed against United Airlines over the UA328 incident. You can find a brief write-up of the case here, and you can find the full lawsuit here. The plaintiff is seeking to recover for negligent infliction of emotional distress on behalf of himself and all other passengers onboard who faced a similar situation.
The lawsuit boils down to this:
- United has a duty to inspect and maintain its aircraft using some level of due prudence
- It’s argued that for something this catastrophic to happen, a breach of duty has been demonstrated
- United’s breach of duty resulted in the infliction of severe emotional distress upon passengers
- This emotional distress was entirely foreseeable and wouldn’t have occurred without United’s breach of duty
To go into this in a bit more detail, the claim is that United Airlines was negligent in not properly inspecting fan blades, especially since a similar incident happened a few years back, and similar recommendations were made. According to the suit:
Preliminary results from an NTSB investigation into this incident indicated that it appears at least 1 engine fan blade tore off during flight due to “metal fatigue,” and in the process took at least 1 more fan blade with it, causing an “uncontained engine event.”
It is possible to inspect fan blades for metal fatigue using processes including “fluorescent penetrant inspection” and “thermal acoustic imaging,” and in fact, the NTBS ordered all planes using the same engine models to do so after the incident.
UNITED’s failure to ensure that what happened in 2018 did not happen again in 2021 is a stunning failure of reasonable safety practices by any standard.
The suit claims that as a result of this negligence, passengers suffered serious emotional distress:
Plaintiff, as well as, upon information and belief, most (if not all) passengers, reasonably feared for their life as a result of the shambled state of their airplane, starting at over 2 miles in altitude, and lasting approximately 18 minutes.
Plaintiff, as well as, upon information and belief, most (if not all) passengers, suffered physical symptoms as a result of this intense experience, including: nausea, tachycardia, shaking, symptoms of shock, and following the flight, insomnia.
A United Airlines 777 had a pretty terrifying engine failure, and now the airline is facing a lawsuit from passengers. I’ll be curious to see what comes of this case (assuming this isn’t settled out of court, in which case we may never find out).
I absolutely believe this incident was terrifying for passengers onboard. I’ve flown millions of miles and have experienced quite some stuff, but this would have still freaked me out.
That being said, I’m obviously no lawyer, so I’m not sure just how much legal merit there is to this case. If the investigation reveals that this incident was similar to the 2018 incident and could have been avoided with proper inspections of the fan blades, then I feel like maybe they have a case? The question is what kind of a dollar amount you can put to the emotional distress that passengers experienced.
What do you make of this United Airlines lawsuit? I’d especially love to hear from lawyers.