The phone conversations between Sam Fleishman and myself continue around themes in my forthcoming Murder By Computer.
Sam: I remember that A330 fell out of the sky, then splashed into the stormy Atlantic.
Sam: As I recall, the media blamed the disaster on pitot heaters, lightning strikes, severe turbulence that snapped the tail off, a massive electrical fire, a rogue missile, inadequate pilot training, a terrorist bomb, sabotage, a meteor strike, a mid-air collision, global warming -- even alien abduction. You were the lone analyst to write that the cockpit computers crashed. Now the plaintiffs' attorneys agree?
John: Yes; Chicago-based Ribbecks Law attorney William B. Ingram writes that a 'number of computer defects caused the crash and resulted in the deaths of 228 souls.'
Sam: What do they allege?
John: That 'Motorola designed, manufactured, assembled, and sold microprocessors for that Airbus A-330's air data inertial reference units -- ADIRUs -- and flight control computers that were defective and unreasonably dangerous' when they left the factory.
Sam: Help me remember what those computers do.
John: They're the plane's central nervous system -- the plane had a stroke. Ribbecks Law alleges that the microprocessors created and allowed erroneous data and spurious signals regarding the aircraft's speed and deck angle. Imagine all these flight displays blanking in pitch-black skies, along with the flight control computers, autopilot and weather radar computers crashing, leaving the pilots flying by Braille.
Sam: Blind as bats -- trapped in a chamber of horrors.
John: Horrifying. Attorney Ingram writes, 'Microprocessors in the flight control computers were defective in that they created and allowed erroneous data from the ADIRUs to be provided to the computers. As a result of the microprocessors providing erroneous data, the flight control computers allegedly commanded dangerous and improper movements that caused the aircraft to crash.'
Sam: Computers that should have been fail-safe, but were fail-deadly.
John: Right. The Ribbecks Law firm alleges that 'Motorola owed a duty of reasonable care in designing, manufacturing, and assembling their ADIRU microprocessors and flight control computers so as not to cause injury. Motorola allegedly breached that duty by . . . designing these microprocessors such that they could create and allow faulty data.'
Sam: Everything you've warned about.
John: Ribbecks Law also alleges that 'DuPont designed, manufactured, assembled, and sold an aspect of the wiring associated with various sensors on the aircraft.' Mr. Ingram writes, 'Plaintiffs allege this wiring was defective and unreasonably dangerous upon leaving DuPont's custody and control in that it was subject to wet arcing, dry arcing, chafing, cracking, hydrolysis, and pyrolization.' Here are a few hundred plaintiffs.'
Sam: How sad, but what is 'pyrolization'?
John: They allege that the wiring dis-in-te-grated.
Sam: And . . . .
John: Mr. Ingram's law firm further alleges that, 'Plaintiffs assert these defects caused erroneous information to be provided to the ADIRUs and flight control computers which then commanded improper movements that caused the plane to crash.'
Sam: Blunt words; anything else?
John: Mr. Ingram continues, 'DuPont owed a duty of reasonable care to decedents in designing the wiring, and DuPont breached that duty by designing the wiring such that it was subject to arcing, chafing, cracking . . . and this breach resulted in the plane crashing into the ocean.'
Sam: But how could all those backup-upon-backup computers crash?
John: Ahhh . . . the myth of backup computers; that's for later.
Sam: O--kay, but what's happening with those lawsuits?
John: Motorola and DuPont filed motions to dismiss all claims without prejudice.
Sam: Did the judge rule in their favor?
John: No; the Court ruled in favor of the memory of Riverdance star Eithne Walls.
Sam: I'm moved to tears.
John: Attorney Ingram writes, 'The Court found the allegation that the microprocessors were defective at the time they left Motorola's custody to be sufficient. The Court ruled that the plaintiffs provided sufficient facts to state a plausible causation theory.'
Sam: What about the thousands of fail-deadly computers still zipping around the globe?