2005-12-02 / Community

AA 587 Cases Moving Slowly Through Federal Court System

Local Death, Property Damage Cases Still Pending After Four Years.
By Howard Schwach


This year’s memorial service on the fourth anniversary of the crash was held at the site, Beach 131 Street and Newport Avenue, where a number of homes have been built to replace those destroyed in the crash. Pictured, family members carry pictures of the loved ones they lost as they enter St. Francis de Sales Church for a private mass.This year’s memorial service on the fourth anniversary of the crash was held at the site, Beach 131 Street and Newport Avenue, where a number of homes have been built to replace those destroyed in the crash. Pictured, family members carry pictures of the loved ones they lost as they enter St. Francis de Sales Church for a private mass. More than four years after the deadly crash of American Airlines Flight 587 that killed all 260 people on the aircraft and five Belle Harbor residents on the ground, the federal case that would compensate the victims of the crash still slowly wends its way through the federal courtroom of Judge Robert Sweet.

According to court papers filed recently by attorneys for the defendants, American Airlines and Airbus Industries, the 18 remaining wrongful death cases still unsettled include Belle Harbor residents Christopher Lawler, Kathleen Lawler and Franco Pomponio.

Robert Spragg, an attorney with Kriendler and Kriendler, the law firm central to the consortium of plaintiff lawyers, told The Wave this week that none of the 30 ground personal injury and property damage suits brought against the defendants has been settled and he does not expect settlement in those cases until all of the death cases are settled.

Court records show that among those suing for personal injury and/or property damage are James Bulloch, who owns the Beach 129 Street gas station where one of the engines fell, Gerald Dewan, Seth Goldberg, Thomas Lawler, Michael Morley, Geraldine Pomponio, Mark Schoor, Bette Weiser and the Harbor Light Pub.

At least three of the 18 who have refused settlements from the defendants have told The Wave that they will not accept any offer and want the discovery process to begin anew, a process that would force the court to take evidence as to what caused the crash. They believe that the report issued by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) late last year was wrong in its conclusion that First Officer Sten Molin, who was flying the departure from JFK Airport that day, unnecessarily overaggressively used the rudder of the Airbus A 300-600 aircraft, ripping the tail from the plane.

A recent ruling on a calendar for the case, issued by Judge Sweet, put the discovery process off for at least 18 months, something that angers some family members.

“That is 18 months more of pain and suffering for the families,” said Keith Williams, whose wife, Kathleen Ann Williams, died in the crash. “This extends the case into 2008, when it will be seven years from the crash.”

Spragg says that the case is progressing relatively well from the judge’s perspective.

“When you can settle 247 cases without going to trial that is a positive thing from the court’s perspective,” the lawyer says, adding that the major impending issue now is one of “Choice of Law.”

This is not an inconsequential question for those who seek compensation from the defendants.

According to Spragg, the defendants want French law to be used (the plane was built in France) for punitive damages because French law does not allow punitive damages but does allow suits for negligence. They also want New York State law used for questions of compensation determination because our state recognizes pecuniary damages such as loss of income and age, but not such items as loss of relationship or companionship.

Spragg says that while Sweet has not yet ruled, he seems to be leaning towards New York State law, which, he says, “would not be the best for the families.”

The plaintiffs say that maritime law should attend because the crash happened over the “navigatible waters of Jamaica Bay.”

Such a ruling would allow the plaintiffs to recover for such intangibles as loss of society.

Sweet heard motions from both the plaintiffs and defendants on November 9. He was set to rule on December 7, but Spragg says that the defendants threw a curve by submitting a 118-page briefing paper just before Thanksgiving that could cause a response from the plaintiffs.

Sweet will be away from his courtroom from December 13 to Mid-January and Spragg thinks that his decision will be put off until then.

Until then, Rockaway residents can only sit and wait, as they have been doing for more than four years.

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