All But One Alaska Air Crash Suits Settle
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- Eighty-seven of 88 wrongful death cases stemming from the 2000 crash of an Alaska Airlines plane off the coast of Southern California have settled for millions of dollars each, lawyers involved in the litigation said Thursday.
Lawyers said the settlements, the 87th reached Thursday afternoon, were among the largest ever in an air disaster case -- in part because of a government investigation focusing blame on the aircraft's carrier and maker, and because of the unusual nature of the crash itself.
Aviation attorney Brian Panish of Los Angeles, one of the lead attorneys on the cases, said they settled for "anywhere from a couple million dollars up to $20 million."
Financial terms of the out-of-court deals are sealed from public review. "There was a lot of money paid for these cases," Panish said.
Both Boeing, the plane's maker, and Alaska, have conceded liability for the crash of the MD-83 aircraft off the Southern California coast.
That prompted all but one of the remaining unsettled cases to settle before Monday, the day of the scheduled wrongful-death trial in San Francisco federal court for 87 of the 88 cases. The companies' concessions of liability prevented plaintiff's lawyers from litigating how the plane crashed, leaving just the amount of damages left to litigate.
The one holdout case is being brought on behalf of passenger Joan Smith, 53 of Burlingame. Her case is pending trial in Los Angeles federal court.
"We plan on going to trial," said Smith's attorney, Joseph Carcione Jr. of Redwood City. "It is the most outrageous taking of lives by corporate America that I have ever seen, which has not been addressed by the settlements that have been paid."
Flight 261 was headed from Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, to San Francisco and Seattle when it crashed Jan. 31, 2000 into the Pacific off Port Hueneme. All 88 aboard were killed.
Investigators quickly focused on a lack of grease on the jackscrew, a tail component that helps move the jet's stabilizer and sets the angle of flight.
While two federal judges ruled out punitive damages against both companies, lawyers for the loved ones who perished were granted the right to recover a variety of other damages, including so-called "pre-impact" compensation.
That covers both the emotional and physical injuries the passengers encountered as the plane nose-dived into the ocean off the coast. In this case, those damages were abnormally high because the plane encountered two freefalls: one for 80 seconds before it recovered and another for 90 seconds before crashing into the sea, lawyers in the case said.
A trial scheduled here Monday for Abigail Busche, a 25-year-old Microsoft graphic arts designer from Seattle, was avoided when her case settled Thursday afternoon. She was the remaining holdout of the 87 cases originally set for trial before U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer.
"We settled because Boeing and Alaska decided to step up to the plate and show themselves to be accountable," said John Greaves a Los Angeles attorney representing Busche's parents, Fred and Susan Miller of Seattle.
As trial was nearing Monday, attorneys who held out for their clients recovered even more by adopting that strategy.
"I had some, from the time they considered their fair offer, that went up four times in the end. Most of them went up by four at least," said Kevin Durkin, a Seattle aviation attorney.
One of Durkin's clients' Anarudh V. Prasad, 30 of Seattle, lost his 19-year-old brother and two cousins in the crash.
"There's not a day goes by when we don't remember them," he said. His family settled, he said, because "It just brings up a lot of stuff our family doesn't want to deal with any more."
As part of the settlements, lawyers also recovered economic damages for their clients. Those settlements vary because their calculation is based on a passenger's wages and projected future earnings.
James S. Rogers, a Seattle product liability lawyer, said settlements also usually include "non-economic" losses, in which money is paid to family members to cope with the grief and anguish of a lost loved one.
"There is no yardstick on what that is," Rogers said.
Before Boeing conceded liability, the Chicago-based manufacturer contended the accident would have been prevented if Alaska Airlines had properly maintained the MD-83 aircraft, an assertion Alaska has disputed.
"We're hoping the families felt it was fair compensation," said Boeing spokeswoman Liz Verdier. "Why go through a painful trial?"
Jack Walsh, a spokesman for Seattle-based Alaska, said "Our goal is to be fair and equitable with all of the settlements."
The National Transportation Safety Board in December blamed shoddy maintenance for the lack of grease, excessive wear and the eventual failure of the plane's jackscrew. The board also said the absence of a "fail-safe" system for the jackscrew may have contributed to the crash.
The plane was built by McDonnell Douglas before the company merged with Boeing in 1997. Federal prosecutors here have opened a criminal investigation into the crash.
The case is In reference Air Crash near Point Mugu, MDL-1343.
quote:This is what some of us are hoping will happen in the case of the swissair tragedy. Thanks for posting this article CD.
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