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Lawyer for ValuJet victims says his case is now stronger

September 18, 1997

MIAMI (AP) _ A lawyer for families suing ValuJet and its subcontractor said damages could increase significantly because workers won’t answer questions about their handling of oxygen generators blamed in the airline’s Everglades crash.

Employees of SabreTech, the airline’s maintenance contractor, have invoked their Fifth Amendment right during pretrial depositions this week, attorney Steve Marks said Wednesday.

Marks said the workers’ refusal to give sworn statements ``is an inference in fact that their conduct was criminal. ... (That) would support an award of punitive damages.″

Lawyers for SabreTech accused Marks of grandstanding.

``It was unprofessional at best,″ said Marty Raskin, an attorney for SabreTech.

SabreTech employees were advised to take the Fifth because, among other things, a federal grand jury is investigating possible criminal wrongdoing, Raskin said.

Marks is a lawyer for a group of Florida families who have consolidated their lawsuits against SabreTech and ValuJet. The families accused the airline and its subcontractor of mishandling oxygen generators blamed for a fire that doomed Flight 592. The May 1996 crash killed all 110 people aboard.

No trial dates have been set for Mark’s suit or other civil cases against ValuJet and its subcontractor. Some claims already have been settled.

A National Transportation Safety Board investigation found the 144 generators had passed their expiration dates and were removed from ValuJet planes and replaced during servicing by SabreTech. That company marked them as ``company materials″ and returned them to ValuJet, which loaded them aboard the jetliner.

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