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Out-of-Court Settlement in Lawsuit Over Airliner Crash

January 14, 1992

CHICAGO (AP) _ Attorneys in the largest lawsuit resulting from the 1989 crash of a United Airlines jet in which 112 people died reached an out-of-court settlement, a judge said Monday.

Lawyers for the estates of two people killed in the crash in Sioux City, Iowa, and seven people who survived were prepared to argue that United, McDonnell Douglas Corp. and its Douglas Aircraft Co. division, which made the DC-10, and the maker of the jet engine should pay damages.

Weekend negotiations ended in a settlement late Sunday and U.S. District Judge Suzanne Conlon accepted the agreement.

Attorneys wouldn’t release details of the settlement, except to say it included no formal finding of liability from United and other defendants. One attorney, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said settlements were different for each plaintiff and the total was in the millions of dollars.

″We didn’t expect this case to be settled, but there was a dramatic shift once they realized we were ready to go,″ said David Rapoport, a lawyer for the plaintiffs. ″The amount suggests an admission of their guilt.″

Jack Barry, an attorney for St. Louis-based McDonnell Douglas, said the settlement was merely fair compensation for the victims.

″We’ve settled 207 cases so far,″ Barry said. ″We’re trying to settle with all these people. They all got hurt. We paid fair and just compensatory damages for those who were injured.″

Government investigators determined the July 19, 1989, accident occurred after a metal fan disk disintegrated in flight, hurling engine parts through the tail assembly and severing the plane’s hydraulic system.

Flight 232, traveling from Denver to Chicago, cartwheeled down a runway, broke into pieces and burst into flames as it attempted an emergency landing.

The crash killed 112 people, while 184 people survived, including the jet’s pilot.

The federal case was the only one seeking punitive damages. Forty-five lawsuits have been settled and others are pending in state courts.

″The real issue was punitive damages,″ said Edward Stillman, an attorney for an Indiana family of four who survived the crash and were among the lawsuit’s nine plaintiffs. ″They thought they were vulnerable to it and we did, too.″

In addition to Chicago-based United and McDonnell Douglas, named in the lawsuit were Alcoa of Pittsburg, Ohio, which made the titanium metal for the disk, and Fairfield, Conn.-based General Electric, which manufactured the fan disk.

″The defendants made an offer that we felt reflected what our clients should get,″ said Michael Baum, who represented the estates of the two people killed. ″It was what we were asking for.″

Rapoport said his clients - three United crew members - were happy, but continue to relive the crash.

″They went through a tragedy that was everyone’s worst nightmare,″ Rapoport said. ″They lived for 44 minutes knowing they were on a plane that was going to crash.″

General Electric and Alcoa should have detected the flaw, Rapoport said. Once the disk was in the aircraft, United should have detected the problem during maintenance inspections.

Attorneys for Alcoa said the technology didn’t exist to determine the flaw in 1971, when the metal was forged. General Electric said the fan disk it made met all specifications and was up to par when it left its factory.

Since the crash, the companies have instituted rigorous safety checks, including ultrasonic inspections, lawyers said.

The Associated Press incorrectly reported Sunday that the lawsuit was filed by four survivors and the relatives of five who died.

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