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DOJ to meet with families of Max crashes' victims as Boeing probe intensifies

Lauren Rosenblatt, The Seattle Times on

Published in Business News

The U.S. Department of Justice will meet this month with the families of victims of two fatal Boeing 737 Max crashes, as federal prosecutors consider whether to move forward with a criminal case against the aerospace giant

That criminal case was put on hold three years ago after Boeing entered into an agreement with federal prosecutors that would prevent Boeing from facing criminal charges if the company met certain conditions, such as strengthening its quality oversight. The agreement expired in January, paving the way for DOJ to determine if it should ask a judge to dismiss the pending criminal claim against Boeing or move forward.

At the same time, the FBI is interviewing some passengers who were on board a Boeing 737 Max 9 plane that lost a piece of fuselage midair in January. That incident occurred just two days before Boeing’s deferred prosecution agreement expired.

The panel blowout did not spark the meeting that DOJ now plans to have with families of victims from the Max 8 crashes, but the Jan. 5 incident does offer a high-profile example that left many wondering if Boeing had violated the terms of its agreement and opened itself up to criminal charges.

At the April 24 meeting, the families and attorneys representing them will share feedback on whether Boeing kept its promise to improve regulatory compliance, oversight and transparency after the crashes in 2018 and 2019 that killed 346 people.

“The families are going to point out what I think has become pretty obvious: Boeing did not seriously follow the obligations it made through the [agreement],” said Paul Cassell, a law professor at the University of Utah who is helping represent the families of victims from the Max 8 crashes.

 

“We’re just seeing example after example of problems with the 737 Max and even more broadly with other things at Boeing,” Cassell said.

Boeing and the DOJ declined to comment.

The DOJ has also opened a criminal investigation into the panel blowout from January. That incident involved a piece of fuselage that fills what can be an emergency exit in some aircraft with high density seating. The National Transportation Safety Board, which is investigating the cause of the incident, determined that four bolts meant to secure the door plug in place were missing.

The Jan. 5 midair blowout “signifies a lack of quality control, which gets to the crux of the deferred prosecution agreement,” said Mark Lindquist, an attorney who is representing individuals in litigation around the Max 8 crashes and the Max 9 safety incident.

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