2011-11-11 / Top Stories

A Decade Later, All Lawsuits Settled

Mayor Hosts Ceremony At Beach 116 Street
By Howard Schwach

The crash scene on November 12, 2001. The crash scene on November 12, 2001. With a decade gone and the tenth anniversary of the tragic crash of American Airlines Flight 587 into the intersection of Beach 131 Street and Newport Avenue coming tomorrow, November 12, the lead law firm involved with the 280 death lawsuits and the 20 property suits says that all of the suits have finally been settled without a trial.

All of the cases were consolidated in the federal courtroom of Judge Robert Sweet, who reportedly decided early in the process that it would be best for both the two air transportation giants – American Airlines and Airbus Industries – and those suing them to settle the case before trial.

The last hold-outs settled last year.

“The last case was settled at the beginning of this year,” says

Robert Spragg, the lead attorney for Kriendler and Kriendler, the law firm that was designated to handle the complicated cases. “In retrospect, this tragedy should never have happened and it was a difficult process for all of the families involved.”

Spragg said that the last case was just settled because one of the passengers had two wives and had never bothered to divorce his first wife before marrying his second.

“The court had to decide which wife got the benefits,” Spragg said. “Finally, the appeals court decided the first wife got the settlement because the man had never satisfied the requirements for a divorce.

“While it had nothing to do with the crash itself,” that case held up the last bunch of settlements,” Spragg said.

Some of the family members had vowed to fight on to the end to force a trial that would prove once and for all the cause of the crash, the second mostdeadly in American history.

Over they ten years since the crash, however, one by one the families of the victims gave in to pressure from the court and the plaintiffs to settle before trial.

Several family members, however, still contend that the truth was not told by the National Transportation Board’s investigation, which concluded that the first officers “unnecessary and over-aggressive use of the rudder ripped the tail from the plane.

“I don’t believe the NTSB’s contention that Molin [First Officer Sten Molin] flew the tail off the plane by using the rudders too aggressively,” a family member, who asked not to be identified because he feared angering Judge Sweet, told The Wave in late 2008. “The trial, with the discovery process, will show that Airbus [Industries, the manufacturer of the plane] knew that the tail structures were flawed before the crash. The only way that will come out is in a trial and I won’t settle for anything less than the truth.”

That discovery process led to evidence collection in both Europe and the United States.

“We took statements in France, Germany and here in the United States,” Spragg said. “We had to see if we can set the responsibility for the crash, and we had taken depositions from personnel from American Airlines, Airbus Industries and third parties.”

In December of 2009, the Canadian Transportation Safety Board ruled in a case involving the loss of the rudder surface on a aircraft virtually identical to the Airbus A-300 that crashed in Rockaway that the rudder surface disbonded, allowing the rudder to split from the tail.

Just last year, the National Transportation Safety Board added to its original report to say that Airbus was partially responsible for the crash, along with first officer Sten Molin.

Last year, the ocean crash of a similar aircraft flown by Air France prompted the French court to order the trial of Airbus Industries for its culpability in that crash.

Photos of divers raising that plane’s tail from the ocean were reminiscent of the photos of New York City Police launches raising the tail of American Airlines Flight 587 from Jamaica Bay.

There are many in Rockaway who believe that a similar disbonding was the cause of the AA 587 crash, and they were hoping that a trial would provide the “smoking gun” that proves that fact.

Meanwhile, ten years later, American Airlines continues to fly the A300 aircraft on its Latin American routes and the aircraft continue to fly over the Rockaway peninsula each day.

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