Swissair won't contest liability in crash
August 5, 1999
In a statement, Swissair said that it, Boeing and Delta Airlines "will jointly assume financial responsibility for the total amount of proven damages stemming from the crash of Swissair flight 111." Delta was a Swissair partner on that flight, and Boeing's subsidiary, McDonell Douglas, manufactured the plane.
The announcement could forestall a lengthy court process designed to prove the airline was liable. The plaintiffs and the companies can now move to determine the amount of money that should be paid.
"We could have tried to prove that we took every measure to prevent it," said Desmond Barry, a lawyer for the companies, referring to the crash. "But that would not have worked. The move is designed to get reasonable compensation into the hands of the passengers. We have forestalled a lengthy liability discovery and litigation."
The airline stressed that it was not admitting fault in the crash. Rather, it says it is living up to its responsibilities under international aviation law, which holds airlines financially responsible for harm that befalls passengers.
"We are not admitting fault," said Barry. "We are just agreeing not to contest the issue of liability. We are acknowledging our contractual obligations to those passengers."
The lead lawyer for the plaintiffs, Lee Kreindler, called the move "unprecedented."
"It's a first," he said. "It's a move in the right direction, and it accelerates everything towards getting compensation to the plaintiffs."
Swissair decided to go ahead with the move once Boeing agreed to share in the eventual financial settlement.
The companies also argued any financial settlement for American plaintiffs should be governed by the Death on the High Seas Act, which allows for compensation based on lost income and financial support the deceased would have provided.
The lawyers for the plaintiffs disagree, saying the law from each state where the victims had resided should apply, which could allow for much higher settlements. That decision will be up to the judge.
The companies also asked the judge to refer claims involving victims from other countries to the courts of their own countries, to be determined by their laws, in many cases for lower settlements. There were about 100 people from countries other than the United States on the plane.
"It really is an attempt by the defendants, especially Boeing, to protect themselves by shipping the Europeans out of here," said Michael Baumeister, one of the lawyers representing victims' families.
Families of victims of Swissair crash form support group
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