Boeing may face new charges as families of 737 Max crash passengers ruled crime victims

Relatives argue that without the company's underlying deception, pilots would have been properly trained and could have avoided accidents

Two crashes involving Boeing 737 Max aircraft killed 189 passengers in Indonesia and 157 in Ethiopia in 2019. Reuters
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Families of passengers killed in two crashes of Boeing 737 Max jets have been deemed by a US federal judge to be official crime victims entitled to consultation before the US Justice Department cuts any deals with the maker of the flawed aircraft.

US District Judge Reed O’Connor in Texas said in a ruling late on Friday he will now determine what remedies the families should receive because federal prosecutors failed to consult with them before reaching a plea deal with Boeing in January 2021.

The deal itself, in which the company agreed to pay $2.5 billion, including a $243.6 million penalty, is now in jeopardy of unravelling. With Friday’s order, Boeing and its executives could face new criminal charges or penalties, lawyers for the families contend.

“Justice for the victims who lost their lives and their families due to Boeing’s greed has been delayed long enough,” said Paul G. Cassel, a lawyer for the families and a law professor at the University of Utah.

“This decision sets the stage for a pivotal hearing, where we will present proposed remedies that will allow criminal prosecution to hold Boeing fully accountable.”

Mr O’Connor granted the families crime-victim status after a protracted court fight. Prosecutors claimed the crime to which Boeing pleaded guilty — defrauding federal regulators about the extent of pilot training needed to address changes in the 737 Max’s guidance software — didn’t touch on the passengers’ deaths.

The families claimed that without the underlying deception, pilots would have been properly trained and could have avoided the crashes, which killed 189 in Indonesia and 157 in Ethiopia in 2019.

“The court finds that the tragic loss of life that resulted from the two airplane crashes was a reasonably foreseeable consequence of Boeing’s conspiracy to defraud the United States,” Mr O’Connor wrote in his order.

The ruling doesn’t automatically unwind Boeing’s criminal plea. Instead, prosecutors must now re-evaluate the manufacturer’s guilt in light of the families’ protests that the punishment doesn’t fit the crime.

Updated: October 22, 2022, 12:50 PM
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