Lu Junhong v. Boeing Co.: Muddying the Waters of Admiralty Jurisdiction and Removal in Aviation Tort Claims

Note by Catherine E. Parsiola

On a clear San Francisco Saturday, pilot Lee Kang-guk attempted his first Boeing 777 landing at the city's international airport. As Asiana Airlines Flight 214 (Asiana 214) approached the airport on July 6, 2013, the pilots did not realize that the plane was coming in too low and too slow. It was not until about three seconds before the plane struck the seawall at the end of the runway that the pilots attempted to change direction. By then, it was too late; the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) later reported that the pilots would have needed to act eight or nine seconds earlier to avoid the tragic accident. The tail broke off during the crash, which caused three deaths and seriously injured forty-nine people.

Several passengers filed suit against Boeing in Illinois state court, alleging that the plane's autothrottle, autopilot, and other systems played a role in the pilots' approach errors. Boeing removed the suits based on admiralty jurisdiction and on the right to a federal forum for those acting under federal officials' authority. However, the district court remanded the case, finding that Boeing did not act under a federal official's authority and that the accident did not occur over navigable water, but occurred on land because the plane struck the seawall. The district court reasoned that admiralty jurisdiction applies only to those aviation accidents that become “inevitable” while over water. Boeing appealed the remand orders. The United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit held that tort claims resulting from the transoceanic flight accident fell within the federal general admiralty jurisdiction and that the claims were properly removed. Lu Junhong v. Boeing Co., 792 F.3d 805, 816-18, 2015 AMC 1817, 1832-36 (7th Cir. 2015).

About the Author

J.D. candidate 2017, Tulane University Law School; B.A. 2014, Louisiana State University.


90 Tul. L. Rev. 1045 (2016)