Judge throws out plea from families of 737 MAX victims to prosecute Boeing

Judge denies a request from 737 MAX crash victims' families to open legal proceedings against Boeing
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At the District Court for the Northern District of Texas, United States (US) District Court Judge Reed O’Connor has denied the plea from families of 737 MAX victims to open legal proceedings against Boeing.

The manufacturer has immunity from criminal proceedings regarding the two fatal crashes of the type, following an earlier settlement with the US Department of Justice (DOJ). 

The families had asked O‘Connor to lift Boeing‘s immunity from criminal proceedings. However, the judge indicated that he does not have the authority to do so, even if the manufacturer is engaged in ‘egregious criminal conduct’. 

Previously, O’Connor arraigned Boeing on charges of felony fraud conspiracy, as the manufacturer’s settlement with the DOJ violated a victim’s rights law. According to the law, since the same judge ruled that the victims’ families were also crime victims, Boeing and DOJ were required to provide information about their settlement deal. 

The two sides agreed to the settlement in January 2021, with the DOJ ordering Boeing to pay out $2.5 billion in compensations and fines to victims, airlines, and the US Government. Of that $2.5 billion, $1.7 billion went to the airlines affected by the groundings that lasted from March 2019 to late 2020/early 2021, $500 million to the crash victims’ families, and $243.6 million was a criminal monetary penalty. The settlement included immunity from any future criminal prosecution. 

“This court has immense sympathy for the victims and loved ones of those who died in the tragic plane crashes resulting from Boeing’s criminal conspiracy,” stated O’Connor, adding that if Congress had given him authority to do so, he would not have hesitated to rule in the victims’ families favor. 

Boeing appeared before the District Court for the Northern District of Texas in January 2023, pleading not guilty to the charges. At the same ruling, O’Connor denied a motion by the victims’ families for an independent party to oversee whether the plane maker created a culture of safety and ethics. The DOJ stated that an ‘independent compliance monitor was unnecessary’ due to several factors when it settled with the Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM). 

Following Boeing’s pleading of not guilty, an attorney representing the victims’ families filed with the same court, stating that the OEM violated the settlement with the DOJ. 

The two Boeing 737 MAX crashes happened in Indonesia and Ethiopia in October 2018 and March 2019, respectively, claiming the lives of 346 people in total. 

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