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An exact total of $62,268,750 in settlements has been paid to 1,123 claimants worldwide from the lawsuits in U.S. District Court here for the deaths of 340 persons in the 1974 crash of a Turkish Airlines DC10 near Paris.
The 1,123 claimants received a net sum of $49,204,771 in the highly publicized lawsuits stemming from the crash, which until the collision last year of two Boeing 747s on the Spanish island of Santa Cruz de Tenerife, was regarded as the world's worst air disaster. The total number of dead in the March 3 Paris crash was 346, all but six of whom were involved in the 211 separate lawsuits.
Total plaintiffs’ costs amounted to $2,218,381, while total plaintiffs attorneys’ fees came to $10,847,303.
This information, plus much more, is revealed in an unprecedented, 43-page, semifinal report issued by U.S. District Court Judge Peirson M. Hall to judicial officials. A pre-eminent judicial expert on air crash litigation, Judge Hall was the chief justice to preside over the cases that featured three defendants, McDonnell Douglas Corp., General Dynamics Corp. and Turkish Airlines.
As of last November, all of the separate suits for compensatory damages had been settled at the trial level. (Business Insurance, Dec. 12, 1977).
According to the judge’s report, there are at present four cases on appeal, involving five descendants. One of these is the Kween case in which the jury verdict of $1,509,950 is being appealed by the defendants. Another involves the rights of a so-called common-law wife. Two appellate cases concern the right to recover punitive damages in wrongful death cases under California law.
As Judge Hall relates in his report, in February, 1977, he and U.S. District Court Judge Manuel L. Real, who joined in hearing the cases in late 1976, wrote an opinion arguing that the California law denying punitive damages in wrongful death cases violates the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution and the California state constitution. An appeal of that decision has been filed by the defendants.
The major part of Judge Hall's report consists of pages of statistical tables which indicate age and sex of the descendant; defendants; number of claimants and relationship; those who waived all claims and relationships; date of settlement; total amount of settlement; costs; attorneys' fees; net distribution and relationship to descendant.
“I do not believe that this has been done before,” Judge Hall commented.
The descendants and claimants are not identified by name, however, on the grounds that the settlements were filed privately in order to prevent the parties “from playing one settlement against the other.”
A complex formula for working out compensatory damage settlements was established by defense attorneys. It revolves around such factors as age of the descendant, annual income, future income, and the numbers, ages and relationships of surviving family members.
From the statistical tables, it is clear that the largest settlement (outside of the Kween case) went to the heirs of a 39-year-old man with five claimants. For his death, they received a total of $900,000, with $28,922 going to cover attorneys costs and one-third of the amount or $300,000 to attorneys’ fees. Of the total settlement, his widow got $190,359 and his two sisters and two minor daughters received $95,180 each.
As that case illustrates, the largest settlements went to wives with minor children. Nevertheless, only 33 of the 211 lawsuits were settled for more than $500,000, and of these only about 12 were settled for amounts in excess of $700,000.
More than one hundred cases, by contrast, were settled for $100,000 or less, with many of these falling in the $50,000 to $75,000 range.
Such awards generally went to parents of single children killed in the crash.
There was one award of only $10,000, which was also the smallest payment. It went to the foster father and mother of a 24-year-old male. From that $10,000, attorneys' fees of $105 and attorneys' costs of $1,000 must be subtracted.
The above article was first published in the May 29, 1978, edition of Business Insurance. To access complete, searchable copies of Business Insurance going back the magazine’s launch in 1967, click here.