2003-11-14 / Community

AA587 Discovery On Hold

As Judge Asks For Settlements
By Howard Schwach
AA587 Discovery On Hold As Judge Asks For Settlements By Howard Schwach

The discovery process in the case of the crash of American Airlines Flight 587, which could point to a cause of the crash, has been put on hold at least until early next year, as Federal Judge Robert W. Sweet works with the families of the passengers and Belle Harbor residents who lost their lives in the November 12, 2001 crash to come to a settlement agreement with both the airlines and with Airbus Industries, the manufacturer of the A300-600 aircraft.

Blanca Rodriguez, an attorney with the firm of Kreindler & Kreindler, which represents more than 70 of the victim’s families as well as 20 Belle Harbor residents, told The Wave in an exclusive interview that Judge Sweet agreed to stop the discovery process when American Airlines and Airbus agreed to a "Funding Agreement" that called for each to share the payouts to those who were impacted by the crash.

"This is a temporary agreement," Rodriguez said. "After all the payouts are made, then the two parties will go to trial to decide the ultimate responsibility."

While American Airlines has previously argued that the aircraft had problems with its tail controls that were not revealed by Airbus, the manufacturer counters with the argument that American Airlines did not properly train its pilots to fly the aircraft.

The hundreds of cases, being handled by more than 100 lawyers, have been consolidated under Judge Sweet in the federal court’s Southern District for New York.

Those lawyers have formed an executive committee for the plaintiffs, a committee chaired by Kreindler & Kreindler.

While the executive committee protested that discovery was ended while settlement discussions were ongoing, Judge Sweet said that he would allow that, while "keeping the defendants on a short timetable."

The parties have to report their progress to the judge by December 1.

The judge has said that if parties cannot reach agreement by spring, he would reopen the discovery process and prepare for a trial.

Rodriguez explained that this is not a class action suit on behalf of all of the plaintiffs, but that each case will be heard or mediated on its own merits.

"Everybody here has an individual claim and each one is different, because the individuals are different," she says. "Fair compensation depends on so many things, including where the person lived and what their situations were like."

While most of the "exemplar" cases that have been presented for mediation up to this point have been passengers on the plane, Rodriguez says that the cases of Belle Harbor residents would begin to be presented next month.

A number of locals who lost their homes in the crash have opted to move rather than wait for settlements that would allow them to rebuild.

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