US supports 737 MAX settlement, says families not ‘crime victims’
The Department of Justice says the settlement with Boeing reached under Trump provided more compensation for families than the law requires.
The United States Department of Justice has opposed a bid by families of people killed in two Boeing 737 Max crashes that alleged the government violated their legal rights when it reached a $2.5bn settlement with the planemaker last year to resolve a criminal charge.
In courts filings on Tuesday, the Department of Justice asked a federal court in Texas to deny the families’ request for a hearing.
The families argued that government lawyers violated a crime-victims law by not telling them that the government was negotiating a settlement with Boeing. They wanted a court to strike down the part of the deal that shields Boeing from criminal prosecution.
The Department of Justice told the court, however, that the family members are not crime victims. Department lawyers also said the settlement included compensation above what the law required.
The settlement, reached in January 2021 near the end of former President Donald Trump’s administration, capped a 21-month government investigation into the design and development of the 737 Max following the two crashes, in Indonesia in 2018 and Ethiopia in 2019, that killed a total of 346 people.
In the filing, the department explained its decision not to take Boeing to a trial on a criminal charge of conspiring to defraud the Federal Aviation Administration, the agency that regulates Boeing and evaluated its airliners.
“There was no doubt that Boeing had conspired to defraud the federal government when it deceived the FAA Aircraft Evaluation Group,” the filing said.
“The government’s investigation, however, did not produce evidence that it believed would allow it to prove beyond a reasonable doubt what factors had caused the crashes of Lion Air Flight 610 and Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302,” according to the filings, referring to the two fatal flights.
Paul Cassell, a lawyer for the families, criticised the Department of Justice’s position that relatives of those killed in the crashes do not qualify as “crime victims” under federal law.
“The Department of Justice’s claim that the families are not the ‘victims’ of Boeing’s crimes is unconscionable and unsupportable,” Cassell said in a statement.
The settlement allowed Boeing to avoid prosecution, and included a fine of $243.6m, compensation to airlines of $1.77bn and a $500m fund for crash victims over fraud conspiracy charges related to the plane’s flawed design.
The Justice Department said that $471m – 94 percent of the $500m – has been disbursed to relatives of 326 of the 346 crash victims.
The crashes, which cost Boeing some $20bn and led to a 20-month grounding of the plane that ended in 2020, prompted the US Congress to pass legislation reforming new aeroplane certification.