737 MAX Crash Relatives Want Boeing Settlement Reopened

Several relatives of the people onboard two fatal 737 MAX crashes want a multi-billion dollar settlement reopened, arguing the US Justice Department and Boeing reached the January 2021 settlement without their knowledge or consent.

737 MAX Crash Relatives Want Boeing Settlement Reopened
Relatives of 737 MAX victims have asked for support from Merrick Garland in their quest to reopen the Boeing compensation settlement. Photo: Boeing

737 MAX victims’ relatives meet with US Attorney General

This week, the relatives of 15 MAX victims and their lawyers held a video conference with US Attorney General Merrick Garland and other Justice Department officials. They requested the Attorney General’s support in their fight at the meeting.

The meeting occurred after a court hearing in Texas earlier this month. Then, lawyers for the group of relatives argued the secretive settlement process favored Boeing and violated their rights. The relatives were particularly aggrieved Boeing received immunity from criminal prosecution under the settlement terms.

The Justice Department asked for an adjournment so Merrick Garland could meet with the relatives and their lawyers. That online meeting took place on Wednesday.

According to The Seattle Times, the group asked the Attorney General to help them reopen the settlement. The relatives argue the settlement was illegal because the Justice Department failed to consult them. The report said Merrick Garland was sympathetic but made no promises.

Paul Cassell, a former federal judge now in private practice and representing some of the relatives, argues the settlement’s secrecy makes it invalid.

“If the government is going to craft a deferred prosecution agreement for a serious felony crime, including one that gives a corporation like Boeing immunity, it cannot do so secretly,” he has previously said.

“In concealing its negotiations from Boeing’s victims, the government plainly violated the Crime Victims’ Rights Act.”

A Lion Air 737 MAX crashed in Indonesia in October 2018, killing all onboard. Photo: Boeing

Lawyers argue settlement’s secrecy breaches US Crime Victims’ Rights Act

Relatives wanted the Attorney General to agree that the settlement breached the Crimes Victims’ Rights Act terms. That would give their lawyers a silver bullet when asking the court to reopen the settlement.

While only a handful of 737 MAX victims have relatives still pursuing legal action, dozens of other families who had relatives onboard the two fatal flights have later signed on in support of the legal action.

The Justice Department reached a US$2.5 billion settlement with Boeing last January. The settlement effectively put Boeing on a three-year good behavior bond. However, as part of the deal, the Justice Department agreed to drop a conspiracy to defraud the US Government charge. That could have seen senior Boeing executives face court.

Despite Boeing agreeing to pay victims’ families $1.8 billion, the deal outraged many. The secrecy surrounding the settlement negotiations and the get-out-of-jail card handed to Boeing executives caused the biggest ructions.

The second fatal MAX crash, involving Ethiopian Airlines, occurred in March 2019. Photo: Boeing

Time does not abate 737 MAX anger

Naoise Ryan’s husband was onboard Ethiopian Airlines flight 302, and she participated in Wednesday’s meeting with Merrick Garland. Mrs Ryan had previously called the settlement deal “blood money.”

“I refuse to accept it,” Mrs Ryan told The New York Times. “This did not reflect in any way a sense of justice, criminal justice, and what should have been accountability at the highest levels inside Boeing.”

Oregon-based Democratic Congressman Peter DeFazio says the settlement was inadequate given how grave the problems at Boeing that contributed to the two MAX crashes.

“This settlement amounted to a slap on the wrist and is an insult to the 346 victims who died as a result of corporate greed,” he said.

Another one of the 15 relatives pursuing Boeing called the January 2021 deal a “Boeing protection agreement.”

“Nobody is being held accountable, personally,” said Michael Stumo, who lost a daughter in the Ethiopian Airlines crash. “A couple of people could not have made this killer plane; it took large organizational conduct.”

Boeing may have hoped the worst of the 737 MAX issues were behind it. But if this group of relatives and their lawyers succeed in reopening the settlement, a new world of pain awaits Boeing.

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