Eighteen passengers who escaped an engine fire aboard an American Airlines 767 jet at O'Hare International Airport last month have sued the manufacturers and the carrier.
The lawsuit, filed in Cook County court Monday, claims a jet engine part built by GE Aviation Systems was defective, dangerous and caused a "catastrophic failure." The lawsuit also names American Airlines and Boeing Co.
Nine crew members and 161 passengers evacuated the plane, which was about to depart from O'Hare, with just minor injuries. Experts say the situation could have been much worse.
A steel-alloy engine disk fractured into four pieces just before takeoff, National Transportation Safety Board investigators said. One section pierced the right wing, where fuel tanks are located, and ignited a fire.
Attorneys with the Geneva-based Wisner Law Firm said Boeing and GE negligently assembled the aircraft and failed to give proper instructions about maintenance and inspections.
The lawsuit also blamed the airliner for neglecting to maintain and inspect the plane, and for failing to give proper instructions on opening the emergency doors and evacuation slide.
"We're proud of our pilots, flight attendants and other team members who responded quickly to take care of our customers under very challenging circumstances," American spokeswoman Leslie Scott said. "American is actively participating in the National Transportation Safety Board's investigation and will continue to work with the NTSB and the other parties."
Passengers suffered "personal and bodily injuries both physical and psychological in nature" that will cause future pain and emotional distress, the lawsuit stated.
The engine disk, which helps power the GE CF6 engine, exhibited signs of fatigue cracks, the NTSB reported. The disk "had 10,984 cycles and had a life limit of 15,000 cycles."
The GE CF6 engine has been described as a reliable workhorse by independent experts and the manufacturer.
"The American Airlines engine event is still in the early stages of the investigation which makes it too early for GE to comment," spokesman Rick Kennedy said.
Boeing officials said they did not comment on pending litigation.
Aviation attorney Floyd Wisner said in an earlier statement that "there are facts that may indicate a potentially recurring problem with GE engines." He noted the Oct. 28 occurrence was the third GE engine failure in little over a year that was "uncontained," in which engine parts fly out from covers.
The lawsuit says the engine was made with defective material and couldn't stand up to heat stress.
The GE disk is attached to a rotating shaft and holds turbine blades that move air. The part was well within its life limit but may have developed a fatigue crack as a result of a tiny imperfection, excess temperatures or other reasons, aeronautics experts said.