A US District Judge has challenged Boeing’s $2.5 billion plea deal regarding the 737 MAX crash investigation. The North Texas judge ruled yesterday that Boeing’s plea deal violated federal law by not consulting with the victims’ families. Let’s unpack this developing story below.

Boeing plea deal ‘violated victim rights’

US District Judge Reed O’Connor has questioned Boeing’s 737 MAX plea deal as the US Justice Department (DOJ) did not seek input from families of the victims of the two MAX crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia. Boeing and US authorities reached the $2.5 billion agreement back in January 2021 – approximately $1.77 billion was paid out to airlines, along with $500 million to the victims’ families and a $243 million fine.

According to court documents reported in The Dallas Morning News, Judge O’Connor stated that the plea bargain was “negotiated in violation of the victim’s rights”, going against the Crime Victims’ Rights Act which upholds the “reasonable right to confer with the attorney for the Government in the case.”

Boeing 737 MAX

Photo: Getty Images

The aerospace manufacturer was charged with fraud and conspiracy after “concealing material information” from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regarding changes to 737 MAX’s MCAS flight control system. Additionally, Boeing was accused of covering up its deception and did not cooperate with investigators for six months.

Crash dead are ‘crime victims’

Judge O’Connor also ruled that those killed in both MAX crashes are legally considered “crime victims,” a sharp U-turn on the DOJ’s stance. Throughout the MAX investigation, DOJ officials were reluctant to designate the victims in this way.

The Crime Victims’ Rights Act determines that a crime victim is someone “directly and proximately harmed as a result of the commission of a Federal offense.” Instead, Boeing’s plea deal placed more emphasis on its intent to defraud authorities before and during the investigation.

O’Connor said,

“Had Boeing’s employees not concealed their knowledge about MCAS, the AEG would have certified a more rigorous level of training, pilots around the world would have been adequately prepared for MCAS activation, and neither crash would have occurred.”

Families want the case reopened

In December 2021, families of several victims filed three motions in the case, arguing that the agreement was reached behind closed doors and without their input. On Friday, family members added that they will now be seeking prosecution for Boeing and its executives.

In a May filing, the victims’ families stated,

“We would have presented the Government with evidence exposing the pervasiveness of Boeing’s wrongdoing. Rather than reach out to grieving crime victims’ families, the Government secretly devised a favorable deferred prosecution agreement with Boeing.”

Boeing 737 MAX

Photo: Getty Images

The billion-dollar settlement enabled Boeing executives to avoid criminal liability, but this immunity is now in question as calls for the 2021 plea deal to be thrown out gather momentum.

Naoise Connolly Ryan, whose husband Mick died in the Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 crash, added,

“The government deliberately concealed its agreement with Boeing from us — the victims’ families — and provided complete immunity to the company responsible for our loved ones’ deaths. Families like mine are the true victims of Boeing’s criminal misconduct, and our views should have been considered before the government gave them a sweetheart deal.”

Do you think Boeing’s January 2021 deferred plea deal should still stand? Or do you agree it should be thrown out? Let us know your insights in the comments.

Source: The Dallas Morning News

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    Dave Calhoun

    Headquarters Location:
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    Key Product Lines:
    Boeing 737, Boeing 747, Boeing 757, Boeing 767, Boeing 777, Boeing 787

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