Alaska says it wants to settle major Flight 261 lawsuit

Posted: Thursday, September 21, 2000

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- Alaska Airlines has said for the first time that it wants to settle a lawsuit stemming from the Jan. 31 crash of Flight 261, which killed all 88 people aboard.

''We would like to settle for 100 percent of the claims,'' the carrier's lawyer, Mark Dombroff, told a federal judge Wednesday at a court hearing filled with nearly four dozen lawyers representing the airline, victims and the jet's manufacturers.

Flight 261 crashed into the Pacific Ocean off Southern California's Point Mugu en route to San Francisco from Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.

Attorneys for the victims' families said it was premature to talk settlement. Under international passenger treaties, Alaska Airlines is liable for $140,000 for each victim, but can be liable for millions more if it is proved that the carrier did not take reasonable measures to prevent the MD-83 plane from crashing.

Company spokesman Jack Evans says the carrier has already paid the $140,000 to each of the families.

''What we told the court today was we were willing to pay 100 percent of compensatory damages to the families as those damages are determined by the court. There's no dollar limit specified, and that's something for the court to determine,'' Evans said.

So far, about five dozen victims are represented in the lawsuit that also names Boeing Co. and McDonnell-Douglas Corp. The jet was made by McDonnell-Douglas. Boeing took over McDonnell-Douglas in a 1997 merger. The lawsuit alleges negligent design and manufacture.

Another plaintiffs' attorney, Frank M. Pitre of Burlingame, Calif., said Alaska's offer was a ''media show.''

Boeing lawyer Keith Gerrard said the manufacturer is unwilling to settle the cases, which have been consolidated before U.S. District Judge Charles Legge. ''Boeing is not accepting liability at this point,'' he said.

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the disaster and has not said what caused the crash. The investigation is focusing on mechanics' decision not to replace a part that was wearing out in 1997.

The jackscrew assembly had been tested repeatedly by a maintenance crew in Oakland, Calif., and found to be nearly worn out but was put back into service after a second crew retested it a few days later, according to airline records and federal officials.

Also, the pilots had reported problems with the MD-83's horizontal stabilizer, a flap on the tail that is tilted by the jackscrew assembly to determine the pitch of the aircraft.

No trial date is set.

The case is In re Air Crash off Point Mugu, MDL-00-1343.

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