Boeing has reached an agreement with the families of victims of the 737 MAX crash that killed 157 people in Ethiopia, and has admitted responsibility for the crash, according to legal documents filed in a Chicago court on Wednesday.
"Boeing is committed to ensuring that all families who lost loved ones in the accidents are fully and fairly compensated for their loss," the company said in a statement passed to AFP.
"By accepting responsibility, Boeing's agreement with the families allows the parties to focus their efforts on determining the appropriate compensation for each family," the aerospace giant said.
Flight 302 to Nairobi, operated by Ethiopian Airlines, crashed southeast of the capital Addis Ababa six minutes after taking off on March 10, 2019.
The accident resulted in the grounding of the 737 MAX fleet, and the worst crisis in the history of the American aircraft manufacturer, as it came after a 737 MAX operated by Lion Air crashed in Indonesia in October 2018, killing 189 people.
The lead lawyers for victims' families hailed the agreement as "historic" and a "significant milestone for the families in their pursuit of justice against Boeing."
"It will ensure they are all treated equitably and eligible to recover full damages," said lawyers Robert Clifford, Steven Marks and Justin Green in a statement.
The agreement proposed Wednesday does not mention specific sums, but said that jurors will be responsible for assessing amounts of compensation based on the evidence presented.
The families of the victims will be able to take steps to obtain compensation in US courts. The 157 people who died were of 35 different nationalities.
"We extend our deepest condolences to the families of those lost on Lion Air Flight 610 and Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302," Boeing said.
"Since the accidents, Boeing has made significant changes as a company, and to the design of the 737 MAX, to ensure that accidents like those never happen again," it added.
The 737 MAX, a new version of the legendary medium-haul plane originally released in 1967, tarnished the reputation of the aircraft manufacturer and cost it billions of dollars.
The planes remained grounded for 20 months before being gradually allowed to fly around the world since the end of 2020. Airlines have brought back into service more than 200 of the aircraft.
A hearing is scheduled for next Tuesday in Chicago to ratify this preliminary agreement. There will then be mediations, but if they fail, each family will be able to present their case to a jury to seek damages, according to the law of the state of Illinois, where Chicago is located.
In January, Boeing agreed to pay more than $2.5 billion to settle certain lawsuits. The aeronautical giant admitted that two of its employees had misled the FAA, the aviation regulator in the United States.