SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC4) – A University of Utah Law professor is stepping up against aircraft industry giant Boeing on behalf of the families who lost loved ones in the tragic crashes of two 737 Max airplanes that killed 346 people.
Paul Cassell said when he heard what happened to the families he knew he had to get involved.
“I contacted them through their attorneys and said ‘I need to work on this case. I need to work with you pro bono and I need to try and achieve justice, accountability, and transparency in this case,” Cassell told reporters in Fort Worth, Texas.
Cassell, a former federal judge, specializes in teaching crime victims rights at the University of Utah. Over the last year, he has been in Fort Worth, working with families of those who tragically died in the airline crashes to seek criminal prosecution against Boeing leadership.
In 2018 and 2019, two Boeing 737 Max airplanes crashed, killing 346 people in total. According to the Associated Press, Boeing reached a settlement with the Justice Department in 2021. As part of that settlement, Boeing paid $2.5 billion to victims’ families, airline customers, and to cover a fine. The settlement also granted immunity from criminal prosecution to the company.
The settlement, a deferred prosecution agreement, or DPA, is now the target for Cassell and the families he represents.
“We have now proven that the DPA was executed secretly and illegally in violation of the federal law, the Crime Victim’s Rights Act that promises victims like this the opportunity to confer with the government before any deal like this is crafted,” Cassell said.
Cassell told reporters he and his clients are waging two battles. The first is to have safety measures put in place to prevent another third crash from ever happening. According to Cassell, they asked for additional monitoring and additional review of the safety measures Boeing is taking to ensure another tragedy never happens.
“Maybe everything Boeing is doing is fine, but maybe it’s not,” said Cassell. “The consequences of them not doing what’s right is too catastrophic to imagine.”
The second battle is to remove the immunity provision from the DPA so the families can hold the then-leadership of Boeing accountable through criminal prosecution.
“We can then go and convince the Justice Department to do the right thing, which is to prosecute this horrific case of manslaughter, the deadliest corporate crime in US history,” Cassell told reporters.
According to the Associated Press, Boeing pleaded not guilty to a charge that it misled regulators who approved the 737 Max. The federal judge ordered the company not to break any laws for the next year, effectively putting Boeing on probation. The Associated Press also said the judge delayed ruling on a request by the families to appoint a special monitor to examine safety issues, a request both Boeing and the Justice Department opposed.
The Associated Press said lawyers for Boeing countered the plea from Cassell and the victims, saying the steps were unnecessary because the company had been following terms of the settlement for two years.