A federal judge ruled Friday that relatives of people killed in the crashes of two Boeing 737 Max planes are crime victims under federal law and should have been told about private negotiations over a settlement that spared Boeing from criminal prosecution.
The full impact of the ruling is not yet clear, however. The judge said the next step is to decide what remedies the families should get for not being told of the talks with Boeing.
Some relatives are pushing to scrap the government’s January 2021 settlement with Boeing, and they have expressed anger that no one in the company has been held criminally responsible.
Boeing Co., which is based in Arlington, Virginia, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Boeing, which misled safety regulators who approved the Max, agreed to pay $2.5 billion including a $243.6 million fine. The Justice Department agreed not to prosecute the company for conspiracy to defraud the government.
The Justice Department, in explaining why it didn’t tell families about the negotiations, argued that the relatives are not crime victims. However, U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor in Fort Worth, Texas, said the crashes were a foreseeable consequence of Boeing’s conspiracy, making the relatives representatives of crime victims.
“In sum, but for Boeing’s criminal conspiracy to defraud the FAA, 346 people would not have lost their lives in the crashes,” he wrote.
Naoise Connolly Ryan, whose husband died in the second Max crash, in Ethiopia, said Boeing is responsible for his death.
“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,” she said in a statement issued by a lawyer for the families.
The first Max crashed Indonesia in October 2018, killing 189, and another crashed five months later in Ethiopia, killing 157. All Max jets were grounded worldwide for nearly two years. They were cleared to fly again after Boeing overhauled an automated flight-control system that activated erroneously in both crashes.