How Bad Are Boeing's Legal Troubles?

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By William Vogeler, Esq. on March 18, 2019 3:30 PM

It's impossible to say how bad Boeing's legal troubles are, except to point out one number: 346.

That's how many people have died in two crashes aboard Boeing's 737 Max 8 aircraft recently. One went down in Indonesia last October, and another in Ethiopia about a week ago.

Nearly three dozen lawsuits have followed, but that's only one measure of the company's legal problems. In other ways, it may take a lifetime to sort out.

Billions in Damages

Five months ago, after the first crash, Boeing's situation was much different. The 737 line of aircraft was the world's best-selling passenger plane.

Boeing had delivered about 350 of the Max 8 version, plus 4,661 on order, by the time of the Indonesia crash. After the Ethiopia crash, forty countries had grounded them.

According to reports, an anti-stalling software may have contributed to the air disasters. For victims' families, damages may reach hundreds of billions of dollars.

Boeing lost billions in market value alone on the news of the second crash.

Billions in Market Losses

Hindsight is better than foresight, they say, but observers say Boeing should have learned from the first crash. Even after the second crash, the company insisted the aircraft was safe.

Writing for Harvard Business Review, Sandra Sucher said the chief executive officer should have framed the problem differently and sooner.

"This is a technical problem that we do not fully understand," she suggested. "In light of that uncertainty, we recommend grounding the 737 Max 8s and 9s until we can be sure we know what is causing these crashes, and can satisfy ourselves and all of the global regulators that the plane is safe to fly again."

That kind of change may take longer, however. It's hard to rewrite history when it is so fresh and painful.

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