Each design choice may be imperfect, but it takes a piling up of circumstances to create a fatal defect.

Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg’s comments at the company’s annual meeting last month left many baffled. Why not acknowledge that Boeing had screwed up with its now-notorious MCAS software that contributed to two fatal crashes of its new 737 MAX jets? His performance left a different taste in the mouths of specialists: The lawyers are in charge now.

An accepted duty of management nowadays is to facilitate eventual liability settlements by not using words that acknowledge faulty decisions. In a better world it would be otherwise, but word-parsing is what lawyers advise. CEOs and boards can themselves be sued by shareholders if they put a foot wrong or even if they don’t.

Less deservedly, Mr. Muilenburg was also derided for his insisting that a “chain of events,” and not a specific defect, was behind the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines disasters. He was right in a way that bears reflection given the many complex systems and imperfect machines we rely on.

Excerpt from WSJ

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