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Swissair makes surprise offer in Flight 111 court case

Swissair says it will compensate the financial losses of the 229 people who were killed in a 1998 MD-11 crash off the coast of Nova Scotia, provided the victims' families agree not to pursue punitive damages.

This content was published on August 6, 1999 - 14:57

Swissair says it will compensate the financial losses of the 229 people who were killed in a 1998 MD-11 crash off the coast of Nova Scotia, provided the victims' families agree not to pursue punitive damages.

"We agree to share liability for the accident and pay full compensatory damages for each passenger and crew member," Swissair attorney Desmond Barry told a federal judge during a pretrial conference in the District Court of Philadelphia on Thursday.

Barry said Swissair and two of the three other co-defendants -- Boeing, which owns the company that built the MD-11 jetliner, and Delta Airlines, which had a ticket-sharing arrangement with Swissair -- would not contest whether they were to blame for the accident.

Swissair says the move does not represent an admission of guilt.

As part of the proposed deal, plaintiffs in 167 cases would agree to waive punitive damages. Barry also requested that about 120 of the cases be dismissed from U.S. court for litigation in France or Switzerland because many of the passengers on the plane were from other countries.

Swissair is facing claims totaling $16 billion from families of U.S. victims suing on grounds of gross negligence, although attorneys expected a jury award would be far short of that figure.

The company said it has reached settlements with relatives of five victims in France.

The offer was revealed Thursday at a pretrial conference that had been planned to sort out procedural technicalities. It came as a surprise to the plaintiffs' attorneys, who weren't told about the offer beforehand.

"This is extraordinary," said Lee Kreindler, the lead counsel for the plaintiffs.

It was not clear whether the deal would be accepted. Kreindler predicted many of the cases will be settled in the coming month, although some of the 30 plaintiffs' attorneys said they weren't so sure.

Flight 111, en route from New York to Geneva, crashed in September after the pilots reported smoke in the cockpit. All 229 people on board were killed.

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.

Swissair said Tuesday that a flight attendant on the MD-11 had reported strange smells in the cabin less than a month before the fatal crash. No problems were found.

The fourth defendant, Inflight Technologies, which provided the plane's electronic entertainment system, was not involved in Thursday's offer. The company is defending its case in California courts, but an attorney said its client would consider joining the deal.


From staff and wire reports.

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