Making what it calls a “humanitarian” gesture, Aeromexico has offered to pay the funeral expenses for 79 of the people killed when one of its DC-9 jetliners collided with a private plane and slammed into a quiet neighborhood in Cerritos on Aug. 31.
But the Mexican airline will not be offering any quick settlements for the loss of life or property because it does not believe it was responsible for the accident, an Aeromexico attorney said.
“I’m simply saying that Aeromexico is not voluntarily coming forward to pay damages for what they are not responsible for,” said Frank Silane, an attorney with the Los Angeles office of Condon & Forsyth.
Airlines and their insurance companies customarily pay the bill for funerals caused by air disasters, according to the funeral director handling the arrangements.
Seventeen homes were destroyed or damaged by the jet, which erupted into flames when it hit the ground, and Los Angeles County fire officials have estimated property damage at about $3 million.
The families of at least six passengers killed in the crash have filed lawsuits against Aeromexico and others. One of the suits, filed on behalf of a South Gate family, seeks $20 million in damages, while another, filed on behalf of two Mexican families, is asking for an unspecified amount. Others suits are being prepared, attorneys say.
Silane on Thursday declined to comment on the suits and said his office will prepare a response once Aeromexico is served legal notice of the actions.
“Let’s just say that it’s (Aeromexico’s) legal responsibilities, whatever they may be, will certainly be taken care of,” Silane said. “There are sufficient assets that they will be taken care of.”
Until then, he said, the airline has offered to pay for the funerals to “put that part of the disagreeable matter behind everyone.”
“The primary concern is to take care of the families of the survivors to make sure the decedents receive proper burials,” Silane said. “That’s a humanitarian concern and very much a concern of the airline.”
Silane said the airline has volunteered to pay full funeral expenses for the 58 passengers and six crew members aboard Flight 498, as well as the 15 people believed killed on the ground. He said the offer does not extend to the pilot and two passengers who were riding in the Piper Cherokee Archer II that officials believe hit the jetliner’s tail.
Only a day or two after the crash, the company began putting out the word through the Red Cross that it would pick up the cost for the funerals, said L.G. Chaddick, a marriage and family counselor who worked with the Red Cross to interview crash survivors.
Silane said he did not know how much the funeral arrangements will cost the airline, which has contracted with Los Angeles funeral director Samuel W. Douglass to oversee the transportation and burial of the crash victims.
However Douglass estimated Aeromexico’s costs will be about $400,000.
So far, Douglass said, the Los Angeles County coroner’s office, which has identified 52 of the victims, has released the remains of 13 people. Two bodies have been transported to Hawaii, one to North Dakota and a fourth to Oklahoma, while the rest have been buried locally.
Aeromexico officials said employees of other airlines are helping to gather X-rays and other medical records needed in the identification process. Guy Arriola, Aeromexico’s assistant regional director, said crew members from United, American and Mexicana airlines have hand-carried some medical records to Los Angeles on flights from New York, Hawaii and Texas.
Arriola added that collecting the medical records, if any exist, for some of the Mexican citizens aboard Flight 498 may take longer because some lived in remote areas of the country.