First settlement reached in Swissair litigation

(AP) -- Swissair and airplane manufacturers reached a settlement with a family of one of the 229 victims in last year's crash off the coast of Nova Scotia, in what defence attorneys hope is the first of many in the contentious litigation.

This content was published on October 28, 1999 - 18:06

(AP) -- Swissair and airplane manufacturers reached a settlement with a family of one of the 229 victims in last year's crash off the coast of Nova Scotia, in what defence attorneys hope is the first of many in the contentious litigation.

The settlement was reached Friday on behalf of the family of Richard Coburn, 37, formerly of East Brunswick, New Jersey. He died when Flight 111, en route from New York to Geneva, crashed in September after pilots reported smoke in the cockpit.

The settlement amount was not disclosed.

"It's a step in the right direction," Swissair attorney Desmond Barry said Wednesday.

Lawyers for both sides have been haggling over compensation after Swissair and manufacturer McDonnell Douglas/Boeing offered to settle all 229 cases, provided that the survivors do not pursue punitive damages.

The settlement package, worth about $300 million in compensatory damages, would only cover real losses associated with income and medical costs.

Plaintiffs' lawyers have rejected the offer, saying they could get $1 billion in punitive damages from a jury. In their lawsuits filed in U.S. District Court, they argue that Swissair and McDonnell Douglas/Boeing knew at least seven years before the crash that faulty wiring on the plane posed a risk for fire.

Investigators still have not identified the cause of the fire that sent the smoke into the cockpit. But Canadian investigators found heat-damaged wiring aboard the crashed MD-11, prompting U.S. air safety officials in January to recommend that airlines inspect all MD-11 jetliners for electrical wiring problems.

Arthur Wolk, who represents the Coburns, said Coburn's widow and three children agreed to settle for compensatory damages only.

That is because the law appears to bar compensation beyond real losses when the survivors were financially dependent on the victim, he said.

"Now the Coburn family will be secure with Richard Coburn's legacy and can begin the most important job of cherishing the memory of their wonderful husband and father," Wolk said.


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