US judge applies ‘crime victims’ status in Boeing 737 MAX crashes. A US federal court judge has ruled that relatives of the 346 people who died in the crashes of two Boeing 737 Max planes in Indonesia and Ethiopia are proxies for crime victims under federal law and should have been informed of the private negotiations on a deal that saved Boeing from criminal prosecution.
However, the full impact of Friday’s ruling is still unclear. The judge said the next step is to decide what remedies the victims’ families should receive for not being informed of the talks between the US government and Boeing.
The first Boeing Max 737 crashed in Indonesia in October 2018, killing 189, and another crashed five months later in Ethiopia, killing 157.
All Boeing 737 Max aircraft were grounded around the world for nearly two years. They were cleared to fly again after Boeing overhauled an automated flight control system that erroneously activated in both accidents.
Relatives are pushing to scrap the US government’s January 2021 settlement with Boeing and have expressed anger that no one at the company has been held criminally responsible for the two crashes.
Arlington, Virginia-based Boeing Co. did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the judge’s ruling.
Boeing, which misled safety regulators who approved the Max, has agreed to pay $2.5 billion, including a $243.6 million fine. The US Department of Justice, in return, agreed not to prosecute the company for conspiracy to defraud the government.
The Justice Department, explaining why it did not tell the families about the secret negotiations with the company, argued that the relatives were not victims of the crime.
However, US District Judge Reed O’Connor in Fort Worth, Texas, said Friday that the crashes were a foreseeable consequence of Boeing’s conspiracy, turning family members into proxies for crime victims.
“In short, were it not for Boeing’s criminal conspiracy to defraud the FAA, 346 people would not have lost their lives in the accidents,” he wrote.
Boeing did not disclose key details to the Federal Aviation Administration of a safety system called MCAS, which was linked to both fatal crashes and was designed to help counter the MAX’s tendency to pitch.
“Had Boeing not committed its crime,” pilots in Ethiopia and Indonesia would have “received adequate training to respond to the MCAS activation that occurred on both aircraft,” O’Connor ruled.
Paul Cassell, attorney for the families, said the ruling “is a huge victory” and “sets the stage for a pivotal hearing, where we will present proposed remedies that will allow criminal prosecution to hold Boeing fully accountable.”
Ireland’s Naoise Connolly Ryan, whose husband, Mick Ryan, a senior engineer with the United Nations World Food Program, was killed in the second Max crash in Ethiopia, has long argued that Boeing is responsible for her husband’s death. .
“Families like mine are the real victims of Boeing’s criminal misconduct, and our views should have been considered before the government gave them favorable treatment,” he said in a statement released by an attorney for the families.
Connolly Ryan had been offered, along with all the grieving families, a substantial cash settlement from Boeing, which she turned down saying she wanted justice, according to the Irish Examiner newspaper.
Bloomberg News reported in 2021 that company shareholders had accused Boeing Co. directors of lying about the company’s oversight of its 737 Max 8 aircraft and engaging in a misleading public relations campaign following two fatal crashes that they involved the plane.
According to unsealed court documents, Boeing’s board of directors was accused of ignoring red flags about the 737 Max, failing to develop adequate tools to assess safety on planes and failing to adequately hold former executives accountable for a relationship campaign. public that rejected the critics. of the plane’s design flaws, Bloomberg reported.