2006-04-28 / Community

Judge Likely To Reopen Discovery On May 6

Nine AA 587 Family Members Decline to take Settlements
By Howard Schwach

Nearly three years after Judge Robert Sweet halted the discovery process that may well finally clarify what happened to American Airlines Flight 587 in its short time in the air on November 12, 2001, he is reportedly ready to reopen that process again on May 6 if the 12 hold-out family members continue to refuse settlements from the airline and Airbus Industries, the planes' builder.

Judge Sweet, who has all of the cases arising out of the crash of American Airlines Flight 587 in his federal court, stayed the discovery process in May of 2003 when a consortium of American Airlines and Airbus Industries agreed to join forces and offer settlements to the families of the 260 people who died on the plane and the five local residents who died on the ground.

That settlement process has been going on for three years and all but nine of the death cases of those on the plane remain to be settled as well as the cases of three who died in their homes when the Airbus A300-600 augured into Beach 131 Street and Newport Avenue. Robert Spragg, an attorney with Kreindler and Kreindler, the Manhattan law firm that heads the committee made up of all the plaintiff's attorneys, told The Wave that it is unlikely that any of them will settle between now and May 6.

"The last 12 [hold-outs] want a final answer as to why the plane crashed. [None of them] think that the NTSB's conclusion is the final story." In addition to the 12 death cases pending and unsettled, there are 26 personal injury and property suits left to be decided as well.

Spragg said that those cases would probably not be settled until all the death cases are settled.

One family member, who asked not to be identified because he was afraid of retaliation from the court, came to New York City from California two weeks ago to meet with Judge Sweet. He told The Wave that he will not settle because he wants Airbus to be questioned about its composite tail structure and what they knew about problems with its rudders prior to the crash. "Nobody will ever have to answer those questions if we all settle without a fight," he told a Wave editor. "The only way we will find the truth is by holding out."

Once the discovery process begins, the Airbus-American Airlines consortium dissolves and the two become adversaries once again.

Airbus has said that the crash occurred because American Airlines did not train its pilots on how to handle a wake turbulence upset.

American Airlines says that the crash occurred because the Airbus A300 series aircraft have a faulty rudder control system that the company knew about yet failed to warn the airlines about the problem.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) ruled a year ago December that the first officer, who was flying the departure that day, "unnecessarily and over-aggressively" used the rudders, putting such force on the rudder that it was torn from the plane. A number of pilots groups and politicians have asked the NTSB to reopen the probe into the crash in the light of more recent problems with the Airbus A300 aircraft (see front page, April 21, 2006 issue).

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