2005-09-30 / Community

Four Years Later, Concern Over AA 587 Settlements

By Howard Schwach


For weeks after the November 12, 2001 crash, large trucks and construction equipment parked on Weisser’s sidewalk. American Airlines, however, says that it was damaged prior to the crash.
For weeks after the November 12, 2001 crash, large trucks and construction equipment parked on Weisser’s sidewalk. American Airlines, however, says that it was damaged prior to the crash. Nearly four years after the tragic crash of American Airlines Flight 587 into the streets of Belle Harbor, many local residents remain troubled by the crash and its aftermath.

Bette Weisser is one of those residents. Her brick home stands at the corner of Beach 131 Street and Newport Avenue. Her home, surrounded by a number of new dwellings recently built to replace those destroyed in the crash that killed all 260 on the Airbus A300 aircraft as well as five locals on the ground, was heavily damaged in the crash.

The sidewalk outside of Bette Weisser’s home on Beach 131 Street and Newport Avenue remains broken and dangerous nearly four years after the aircraft crash on that street.The sidewalk outside of Bette Weisser’s home on Beach 131 Street and Newport Avenue remains broken and dangerous nearly four years after the aircraft crash on that street. She proudly points to the bookshelf in her rebuilt back room that holds religious books that have been in her family for nearly 100 years.

“Everything else in the room was destroyed,” she says. “Those books just stayed in place, unharmed.”

Weisser’s back room was destroyed by the crash into the home next door.Weisser’s back room was destroyed by the crash into the home next door. But Weisser and others whose property was destroyed in the crash have concerns far beyond books.

None of the 26 local residents who have sued to recover from strictly property damage have seen any money from either American Airlines or Airbus Industries, the company that built the plane.

“We are hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt from rebuilding,” she said, and American Airlines won’t even come and fix the broken sidewalk.

While the broken sidewalk might seem trivial to many who lost far more, Weisser sees it as a symbol of the American Airlines failure to do the right thing by Rockaway residents who were impacted by the crash.

“During the spring of 2002, the Department of Transportation told American Airlines that it had to repair the sidewalks on both Neponsit Avenue and Beach 131 Street,” Weisser said. “The airline did Beach 131 Street, but not Newport. A risk manager from American came and told me that the sidewalk in front of my home was broken before the crash and he refused to fix it.”

Weisser says that heavy trucks and construction equipment parked on that sidewalk for weeks after the crash. She argues that the sidewalk was broken at that time, but the airlines representative would not hear of it. Eventually, after the intercession of her lawyer and City Councilman Joseph Addabbo, American Airlines offered to fix “two of the squares” on the sidewalk. She said that one elderly woman already fell in the sidewalk and she is afraid of a lawsuit should anybody fall and break a bone.

“This is really a terrible injustice for the community,” she told a Wave reporter. “Kids walk here on the way to school, people walk by going shopping on Beach 129 Street. Somebody is going to get hurt and I’m going to get sued.”

“The airline spends millions for advertising,” she adds, “but they won’t pay to stop a negative public relations situation like this.” Robert Spragg, a lawyer with Kriendler and Kriendler, the lead firm in a consortium of law firms that have the cases arising out of the November 12, 2001 crash, confirms that none of the 26 property damage cases has been settled.

“The discussions have been ongoing,” Spragg told The Wave, “but nothing has been resolved for many reasons, including the fact that only 237 of the 265 death cases have been tentatively resolved and those cases have been the focus.”

The defendants in the myriad of lawsuits, American Airlines and Airbus, have filed Choice of Law Motions with Judge Robert Sweet in Brooklyn Federal Court. All of the cases involving the crash have been consolidated in Sweet’s court.

The defendants want French law to be used as the determiner of punitive damages based on the fact that the plane was built in France, Spragg says. French law does not allow for punitive damages in such a case, but does allow criminal charges to be brought in case of negligence.

In addition, they want New York State law to be considered for the compensation determination because our state law recognizes pecuniary damages such as loss of income and age, but not non-pecuniary items such as loss of relationship or loss of companionship. Oral arguments on those motions will be held on November 9 and Sweet could rule soon afterward.

Spragg says that the intention of the plaintiff’s lawyers is to reopen liability discovery.

“Those 28 families that have turned down settlements are entitled to go back to the discovery process [where evidence on liability of each of the defendants can be entered] unless one of the parties accepts liability,” Spragg said, adding that Judge Sweet and other federal judges want to insure that every attempt has been made to settle the case before taking that step.

While there is no date set for resuming the case, Spragg says that things usually move faster after the question of which laws to use is decided.

Meanwhile, Bette Weisser and others like her sit and wait, wondering when their needs will be addressed.

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