Saturday, July 4, 2015

Suit filed in death of worker replacing Boeing 777 air bag • Jamco America employee Kenneth Ott died a month after a seat-belt air bag exploded in his face last fall

Boeing and a supplier have been sued by the family of the worker who was fatally injured when a seat-belt air bag he was replacing on a 777 exploded in November.

The accident occurred on a 777 parked on the flight line at Boeing’s Everett factory, when workers for two contractors were called to deal with a seat-belt air bag that had discharged for no apparent reason.

Kenneth Otto suffered massive head injuries when the replacement unit he was installing inflated explosively. He died almost a month later at Harborview Medical Center.

Also suing Boeing and air-bag manufacturer AmSafe is Christopher Gee, who was assisting Otto and suffered physical and emotional injuries, according to the lawsuit.

Seat-belt air bags are typically installed only in the lap belts of business-class seats that can lie flat and are angled to face an aisle, or in seats facing a bulkhead wall or another hard surface. In a crash, highly pressurized gas inflates the air bag “upward and away from the lap belt, filling the space in front of the passenger,” the suit says.

The suit filed Wednesday in King County Superior Court alleges that the plane’s buyer, Singapore Airlines, discovered a discharged air bag in one of the business-class seats as it was preparing to take delivery of the jet.

Neither Boeing nor AmSafe conducted an examination to find what caused the malfunction, which later was traced to a short circuit in the wires controlling the device, according to the suit.

Boeing asked Jamco America, the company that usually installs the 777 air bags at its nearby airplane-seat factory, to replace or repair the device on the plane. Otto, 49 at the time of the accident, was a Jamco employee; Gee, 25, worked for Vartan Aviation Group, which works on Boeing airplane interiors.

Otto had installed more than 150 AmSafe seat-belt systems in seats at the Jamco factory before they were put into a plane, but “neither Jamco nor Vartan workers had ever installed a NexGen AmSafe air bag seat belt system on a seat on Boeing aircraft on the Everett flight line,” according to the suit.

The suit says “Boeing required the work be performed within the tight confines of the airplane. No further guidance or assistance was provided to the two workers.”

While they were replacing the air bag, according to the suit, “suddenly and without warning, the air-bag inflator discharged … (and) launched the partially attached device into Kenneth Otto’s face.”

The suit claims the device was defective, and that neither Boeing nor AmSafe had developed procedures for replacing the seat-belt air bag on the plane.

A Boeing spokesman said it had no comment on the case. In a statement after Otto’s death, the company noted the workers’ injuries “were not related to air bag deployment, as would occur during passenger flight, but rather were related to the discharge of the inflater while the system was partially disassembled.”

It also cautioned employees, suppliers and airline operators to ensure that the air-bag seat-belt system is not connected to the plane’s electrical system “unless all the components of the system are completely installed.”

A subsequent investigation by the state Department of Labor and Industries resulted in an $11,000 fine against Jamco America and a smaller fine against Vartan. Because of safety shortcomings revealed in follow-up inspections, the state also cited and fined two other seat suppliers, Zodiac Seats and B/E Aerospace.

Karen Koehler, the attorney at Stritmatter Kessler Whelan who sued on behalf of Otto’s family and Gee, said employers can’t be sued for injury or death of workers under Washington law, which uses a no-fault workers’ compensation system.

But the accident wasn’t just the fault of Otto’s and Gee’s direct employers, she said: “This fiasco was the result of combined negligence, including that of Boeing and AmSafe.”

Source:  http://www.seattletimes.com

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