Southwest Airlines Fatal Accident
A tragic accident occurred on April 17, 2018 aboard a Southwest Airlines 737 flight to Dallas, Texas. With no forewarning, a jet engine fan blade dislodged from its hub. That free blade acted like “shrapnel”, creating a hole in the plane’s side, and causing a window to break. Sadly, a passenger was sucked toward and partially through the hole where the window had been. While other passengers came to her assistance, the female passenger ultimately died as a result of her injuries. The Southwest pilot safely landed the plane, sparing disaster for the rest of the passengers, although others were injured.
Accidents like this are very rare. At first glance, most people will assume that Southwest Airlines is responsible and “liable” for these injuries and the devastating loss suffered by this woman’s family. However, in an accident like this, allocating fault and determining who is responsible requires a detailed investigation.
The engine was designed and manufactured by someone other than Southwest Airlines. If there was a defect in either the design, or a flaw in the process by which the engine was manufactured, then that entity will have responsibility here as well. Still further, the actual fan blade itself could have been manufactured by a company different from the engine manufacturer. If the fan blade was either designed or manufactured defectively, the fan blade company would also have liability. In addition, the engine and fan blades are surrounded by an outer casing, called a nacelle, that should have contained the fan blade and prevented it from piercing the aircraft fuselage and passenger window. The nacelle manufacturer might also bear responsibility for this unfortunate event.
The National Transportation Safety Board has been on the ground and conducting a complete investigation to determine cause. One of the things those inspectors will undoubtedly be looking for are signs of “metal fatigue”. If investigators are unable to uncover a design or manufacturing defect by these manufacturers, attention will strongly turn to Southwest Airlines and their maintenance crew’s failure to maintain, inspect, and/or detect metal fatigue if ultimately that is determined to have played a role.
Woodruff Johnson & Evans attorney Steve Sandler combines a number of rare talents to bring a special expertise to aviation litigation. A licensed pilot and current plaintiff’s injury lawyer, Steve is also an adjunct professor at DePaul Law School teaching products liability. He is a member of the Million Dollar Advocates Forum and is recognized as a Super Lawyer and Leading Lawyer.