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Crash Victims’ Families Demand Boeing Be Prosecuted for the ‘Deadliest Corporate Crime in U.S. History’

According to an attorney representing the families of victims in 737-Max crashes, Boeing's latest safety failures violate a 2021 deal.

Family members of passengers who died in a pair of Boeing 737 MAX crashes in 2018 and 2019 have asked the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to levy the maximum possible fine in light of the company’s recent safety lapses.

The DOJ is considering criminal prosecution of Boeing, saying that the recent mishaps violate a deal reached in 2021 for Boeing to avoid prosecution related to the crashes, which killed nearly 350 people in Ethiopia and Indonesia. The DOJ claims that Boeing violated the settlement terms by failing to make the promised changes and prevent violations of federal statutes against fraud. 

Paul Cassell, an attorney representing the families of the victims from both crashes, sent the Justice Department a 32-page letter outlining their demands, calling Boeing’s responsibility for the crashes the deadliest corporate crime in U.S. history.”

The crashes were related to a flight control system that Boeing installed in the 737 Max, but did not properly inform airlines or pilots. After the first crash, Boeing downplayed the significance of the system changes, suggesting the pilots were responsible; after the second crash, they finally overhauled the system when investigators found striking similarities between both calamities. 

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In addition to prosecution and a fine, the families have requested that a portion of the fine be devoted to safety and related measures, that the court appoint an independent monitor for Boeing, that the company remain on probation for five years, that Boeing’s Board of Directors should meet with the victim’s families, and that the DOJ continue its investigation of other crimes committed by Boeing. 

“That staggering loss should be reflected in the sentence in this case—including in the fine,” wrote Cassell. “Indeed, it would be morally reprehensible if the criminal justice system was incapable of capturing the enormous human costs of Boeing’s crime.”

Cassell also explains that the families will “vehemently and appropriately object to any resolution that does not acknowledge Boeing’s responsibility for criminally killing their loved ones.”

The crashes also resulted in the grounding of all Boeing 737 Max aircraft for just over a year and eight months, from March 2019 through November 2020. The 737 Max 9 was grounded again for just over five months in early 2024 after a door plug on an Alaska Airlines jet failed just after departure from Portland, Oregon, causing the flight to return to the airport with the passengers exposed to the elements. 

The 2021 agreement between the Justice Department and Boeing was strongly criticized by the families and some members of Congress at the time for being too lenient. In that agreement, Boeing would pay $2.5 billion, but a large portion of that money had already been slated by Boeing to be paid out to airlines as compensation for the groundings. The accidents and groundings caused a significant loss for Boeing, but the company had returned to consistent profitability by the time of the Alaska Airlines incident in Portland. 

Boeing said in a statement it believes it is still in compliance with the 2021 agreement. DOJ prosecutors have until July 7 to tell the courts whether they will pursue further action against Boeing. 

For the families of the victims, the next step is clear: “an aggressive criminal prosecution” including a quick jury trial, and “criminal prosecutions of the responsible corporate officials,” including the company’s CEO at the time of the accidents, wrote Cassell. 

He continued that this might be the last opportunity for the families of the victims to have their day in court “because time is of the essence to avoid any statute of limitations from running [out], the Department should begin these prosecutions promptly.”

ericfox9423 June 21, 2024

Good luck.  I wouldn't hold Boeing liable, if I were on a jury.