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Families of crash victims challenge Boeing settlement in US court

The families of victims of the two Boeing 737 MAX crashes in October 2018 and March 2019 asked a Texas judge Tuesday to overturn a $2.5-billion settlement between the aircraft manufacturer and the US government.

A Boeing 737 MAX airplane lands after a test flight at Boeing Field in Seattle, Washington, U.S. June 29, 2020. REUTERS/Karen Ducey/File Photo

The families of victims of the two Boeing 737 MAX crashes in October 2018 and March 2019 asked a Texas judge Tuesday to overturn a $2.5-billion settlement between the aircraft manufacturer and the US government.

Under that agreement, Boeing admitted to having committed fraud in exchange for the Department of Justice dropping some of the proceedings against it over the deadly crashes of Lion Air in Indonesia and Ethiopian Airlines, which killed 346 people total and caused the MAX to be grounded globally for 20 months.

This January 7, 2021 arrangement was the focus of a court hearing Tuesday in Fort Worth, Texas.

“They messed up by making the crime fraud rather than manslaughter,” said Catherine Berthet, a French woman who lost her 28-year-old daughter when the Ethiopian Airlines plane crashed near Addis Ababa on March 10, 2019.

“We believe that the rights of the victims’ families have not been respected,” she told AFP. “We have not been consulted. We ask to be heard.”

The January 2021 agreement included a $500 million compensation fund for victims’ relatives, $1.77 billion in compensation to the airlines and a $243 million criminal fine.

Boeing has admitted that two of its employees had misled a group within the Federal Aviation Authority that was to prepare training for pilots in using Boeing’s new MCAS flight software, which was implicated in both crashes.

“The judge listened carefully and I think had a lot of concerns about how was it that the Justice Department can seal this agreement from the families,” said Paul Cassell, lawyer for the families in the audience.

Relatives of the victims are now hoping for a quick decision from the Fort Worth judge.

“It’s been three years and I never go to sleep before four or five in the morning,” Berthet said. “I still have panic attacks. There are things I don’t do anymore. There are films that I can no longer see, music that I can no longer listen to.”

“I would like to see that the US Department of Justice is responsible enough to make sure that corporations don’t get away with murder,” said Paul Njoroge, who lost his 33-year-old wife, his children aged nine months, four and six, as well as his mother-in-law in the Ethiopia crash.

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