Insight

Will Recent Boeing Settlements Create Tailwinds In Corporate Law?

Prominent litigation against Boeing is setting a precedent of accountability, professionalism and commitment among company boards as well as ushering ESG further into the courtroom to help monitor and prevent safety issues.

Recent Boeing Settlements and Corporate Law
JS

Justin Smulison

May 3, 2022 09:00 AM

Corporate lawyers should take note of the derivative lawsuit brought by Boeing shareholders against the commercial jetliner manufacturer in the Delaware Court of Chancery, which in March 2022 approved a landmark $237.5 million settlement.

In re Boeing Company Derivative Litigation stemmed from the tragic and high-profile catastrophic crashes of two 737 MAX jetliners in 2018 and 2019 which claimed 346 lives. Plaintiffs claimed the board breached their oversight duties by not upholding their ESG responsibilities leading to fatal airplane safety issues that ultimately proved fatal.

Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) initiatives (and failures) are making their way into U.S. courtrooms in the form of precedent-setting lawsuits, aimed at holding boards, directors and officers accountable for the well-being of employees, consumers and society at large.

The Boeing case is a good reminder of the importance of ESG and a professional and engaged board, said Evan Bolla, a partner and general counsel for the law firm of Harris St. Laurent & Wechsler LLP who handles insurance litigation claims and is not involved in the Boeing suit.

“The decision in Boeing did not change the law,” Bolla noted. “A claim based on inaction, commonly referred to as a Caremark claim, is still an extremely difficult burden. In Boeing’s case the allegations, which were drafted with the aid of information from books and records demands, were that the board essentially dismantled the safety system and really took no action in response to red flags. Airlines should assure that does not occur by having professionals with sound judgment and industry experience on the board.”

When The ‘S’ Stands For Safety

Zoe Littlepage of Littlepage Booth Leckman represented the plaintiff in Weiland v. Boeing in Chicago (where the defendant is headquartered), a case that was unrelated to the derivative suit but still resonated beyond the profession. The widow of a pilot claimed in the suit that a toxic air event, which occurred while her husband was in the cockpit of an American Airlines 767 jetliner in 2016, directly contributed to his passing three years later.

Internal Boeing documents were about to be made public in April 2022, but a settlement was reached on the eve of the jury trial, which Littlepage referred to as “bittersweet.”

“On behalf of the widow and the Weiland family, resolution of the case brings them closure,” said Littlepage, who is also a co-founder of Athea Trial Lawyers, which was ranked Tier 1 for Personal Injury Litigation - Plaintiffs in 2022 by U.S. News – Best Lawyers® “Best Law Firms.” “But it also means that the Boeing internal documents which detail Boeing’s knowledge and awareness of the health and safety issues caused by contaminated cabin air events remain confidential, and the public is kept in the dark.”

But federal legislators clearly saw the light in the Weiland case. In late March, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Rep. John Garamendi (D-Calif.) and a bipartisan, bicameral group in the Senate introduced the Cabin Air Safety Act, which aims to protect commercial airline passengers and crew from toxic cabin air.

The Cabin Air Safety Act would also create a reporting and investigation system within the Federal Aviation Administration and is endorsed by several aviation and health associations. The House introduced an identical version of the bill.

With the derivatives settlement established and the potential for the Cabin Air Safety Act to be signed into law, corporate lawyers serving all industries can learn from Boeing’s legal challenges. Outside counsel may emphasize the need for clients to consider safety, reputational and ESG-based perspectives as informal guidelines to help their ability to conduct business and avoid litigation.

Justin Smulison is a professional writer who regularly contributes to Best Lawyers. He was previously a reporter for the New York Law Journal and also led content and production for the Custom Projects Group at ALM Media. In addition to his various credited and uncredited writing projects, he has developed global audiences hosting and producing podcasts and audio interviews for professional organizations and music sites. JustinSmulison.contently.com

Related Articles

Protecting High-level Executives With the Apex Doctrine


by Sara Collin

The Apex Doctrine, developed to shield high-level executives from inappropriate depositions, is a beneficial asset to lawyers and clients, at least in the states where it’s been adopted.

Apex Doctrine Protects Executives

Newly Launched COVID-19 Litigation Project Offers Open Access To Pandemic-Related Court Judgments From Over 70 Countries


by Sara Collin

A worldwide database of COVID-19 cases is uniting more than 70 countries as judges, lawmakers and lawyers continue to navigate pandemic related litigation and the ways in which it’s evolving amid year three.

COVID-19 Worldwide Litigation Project

IN PARTNERSHIP

Intellectual Property Audit: General Guide


by Vincent J. Allen

A General Guide to Intellectual Property Audits

Key Developments and Trends in U.S. Commercial Litigation


by Justin Smulison

Whether it's multibillion-dollar water cleanliness verdicts or college athletes vying for the right to compensation, the state of litigation remains strong.

Basketball sits in front of stacks of money

IN PARTNERSHIP

Coffey Burlington: A Culture of Excellence


by John Fields

Coffey Burlington: A Culture of Excellence

IN PARTNERSHIP

Taking an Important Case to Trial: Jury Research


by Sara Margolis and Steven F. Molo

MoloLamken LLP partners Steven Molo and Sara Margolis discuss a critical step in preparing for high-stakes trials: jury research.

A Watercolor Illustration of Twelve Jurors

Combating Nuclear Verdicts: Empirically Supported Strategies to Deflate the Effects of Anchoring Bias


by Sloan L. Abernathy

Sometimes a verdict can be the difference between amicability and nuclear level developments. But what is anchoring bias and how can strategy combat this?

Lawyer speaking in courtroom with crowd and judge in the foreground

"Lawyer of the Year"


Headshot of the D.C. Lawyer of the Year Honoree

Adam J. August

Corporate Law

Washington, D.C., VA

2024

SCOTUS Rules in Andy Warhol Fair Use Case


by Sara Collin

Andy Warhol’s iconic work, known for representing well-known objects and images, was the focus of a recent fair use case surrounding possible copyright infringement. A lawyer from a Best Lawyers recognized firm weighed in.

Two images of Prince on orange and purple background

IN PARTNERSHIP

Beyond Business: The Personal Touch in M&A Transactions


by Justin Smulison

The stakes are always high in a business transaction because real people are often embarking on a once-in-a-lifetime event. Tiffany & Bosco M&A/Business Solutions Practice Group co-chairs Jim O’Sullivan and May Lu discuss their approach to helping business leaders make life-changing decisions and how professional partnerships strengthen their results.

Headshot of male lawyer in dark suit and red tie, and headshot of female lawyer in dark suit and gla

Class-Action Claims to Increase in the Wake of Societal Emphasis of ESG


by Agenique Smiley

Corporate litigators and state lawmakers anticipate a mounting rise in ESG-related issues surrounding class-action lawsuits. One Best Lawyers recognized firm is weighing in with survey data supporting this increase.

Abstract silhouettes of faces in blue, green and beige

Whistleblower Legislation Opens the Doors for More International Claims


by Justin Smulison

An Anti-Money Laundering Act, part of a recently passed Omnibus Budget in the U.S. Senate, is expanding protection for whistleblowers both domestically and internationally.

Shadow figure in spotlight against red and blue brick wall

A New Spin on Continuing Legal Education


by Sara Collin

Attorney Humira Noorestani is launching a program for continuing legal education, one that she’s dubbed the “Netflix of CLE,” allowing lawyers in the U.S. to explore legal knowledge from prominent lawyers around the world.

Hands emerging from computer and cellphone screens

Protecting Small Business Owners: Trial Experts Connick Law LLC Notoriously Successful with Fire Litigation


by Justin Smulison

When small business owners become the target of insurance companies in fire-related lawsuits, hiring a firm with a reputation for understanding the science of fire suppression trials can save their livelihoods.

Gold Indoor Sprinkler Heads on Red Background

Announcing the 2022 Best Lawyers: The Corporate Law and Commercial Litigation Issue


by Best Lawyers

The first edition of Best Lawyers: The Corporate Law and Commercial Litigation Issues features thought leadership articles from attorneys around the nation, as well as listings in more than 70 practice areas.

Corporate and Commercial Issue

NYC Pay Transparency Law Gets New Start Date


by Justin Smulison

This historic law regarding pay transparency in New York City originally scheduled to take effect last week was rescheduled to Fall 2022.

NYC Stand Resolute on Pay Transparency

Trending Articles

Presenting The Best Lawyers in Australia™ 2025


by Best Lawyers

Best Lawyers is proud to present The Best Lawyers in Australia for 2025, marking the 17th consecutive year of Best Lawyers awards in Australia.

Australia flag over outline of country

How To Find A Pro Bono Lawyer


by Best Lawyers

Best Lawyers dives into the vital role pro bono lawyers play in ensuring access to justice for all and the transformative impact they have on communities.

Hands joined around a table with phone, paper, pen and glasses

How Palworld Is Testing the Limits of Nintendo’s Legal Power


by Gregory Sirico

Many are calling the new game Palworld “Pokémon GO with guns,” noting the games striking similarities. Experts speculate how Nintendo could take legal action.

Animated figures with guns stand on top of creatures

Announcing The Best Lawyers in New Zealand™ 2025 Awards


by Best Lawyers

Best Lawyers is announcing the 16th edition of The Best Lawyers in New Zealand for 2025, including individual Best Lawyers and "Lawyer of the Year" awards.

New Zealand flag over image of country outline

Legal Distinction on Display: 15th Edition of The Best Lawyers in France™


by Best Lawyers

The industry’s best lawyers and firms working in France are revealed in the newly released, comprehensive the 15th Edition of The Best Lawyers in France™.

French flag in front of country's outline

Announcing The Best Lawyers in Japan™ 2025


by Best Lawyers

For a milestone 15th edition, Best Lawyers is proud to announce The Best Lawyers in Japan.

Japan flag over outline of country

The Best Lawyers in Singapore™ 2025 Edition


by Best Lawyers

For 2025, Best Lawyers presents the most esteemed awards for lawyers and law firms in Singapore.

Singapore flag over outline of country

Announcing the 13th Edition of Best Lawyers Rankings in the United Kingdom


by Best Lawyers

Best Lawyers is proud to announce the newest edition of legal rankings in the United Kingdom, marking the 13th consecutive edition of awards in the country.

British flag in front of country's outline

Announcing the 16th Edition of the Best Lawyers in Germany Rankings


by Best Lawyers

Best Lawyers announces the 16th edition of The Best Lawyers in Germany™, featuring a unique set of rankings that highlights Germany's top legal talent.

German flag in front of country's outline

How Much Is a Lawyer Consultation Fee?


by Best Lawyers

Best Lawyers breaks down the key differences between consultation and retainer fees when hiring an attorney, a crucial first step in the legal process.

Client consulting with lawyer wearing a suit

Presenting the 2024 Best Lawyers Employment and Workers’ Compensation Legal Guide


by Best Lawyers

The 2024 Best Lawyers Employment and Workers' Compensation Legal Guide provides exclusive access to all Best Lawyers awards in related practice areas. Read below and explore the legal guide.

Illustration of several men and women in shades of orange and teal

Things to Do Before a Car Accident Happens to You


by Ellie Shaffer

In a car accident, certain things are beyond the point of no return, while some are well within an individual's control. Here's how to stay legally prepared.

Car dashcam recording street ahead

Celebrating Excellence in Law: 11th Edition of Best Lawyers in Italy™


by Best Lawyers

Best Lawyers announces the 11th edition of The Best Lawyers in Italy™, which features an elite list of awards showcasing Italy's current legal talent.

Italian flag in front of country's outline

Combating Nuclear Verdicts: Empirically Supported Strategies to Deflate the Effects of Anchoring Bias


by Sloan L. Abernathy

Sometimes a verdict can be the difference between amicability and nuclear level developments. But what is anchoring bias and how can strategy combat this?

Lawyer speaking in courtroom with crowd and judge in the foreground

The Push and Pitfalls of New York’s Attempt to Expand Wrongful Death Recovery


by Elizabeth M. Midgley and V. Christopher Potenza

The New York State Legislature recently went about updating certain wrongful death provisions and how they can be carried out in the future. Here's the latest.

Red tape blocking off a section of street

6 Ways a Lawyer Can Help You With Your Medical Malpractice Claim


by Adam Malone

If you believe you have a medical malpractice claim, contact an experienced medical malpractice lawyer. Read on to learn how they can help with your claim.

Doctor in white lab coat showing x-ray to patient in blue scrubs

This article is a part of the Best Lawyers Corporate Law & Commercial Litigation Legal Guide. Read thought leadership from recognized lawyers and navigate a list of all honorees in the associated practice areas.

Explore the Legal Guide