Jurors in the Cerritos air collision trial are to begin deliberations this week, more than 2 1/2 years after a 1986 accident that torched a neighborhood and killed 82 people.
An Aeromexico jetliner, on its final approach to Los Angeles International Airport, collided with a small plane and crashed into a suburban neighborhood, killing 15 people on the ground and all 67 people aboard the two planes. It was the worst air disaster in Los Angeles County history.
Today, jurors in the courtroom of U.S. District Judge David Kenyon will hear final arguments on who was to blame.
More Than 100 Suits
During the five-month trial, 35 witnesses recounted events surrounding the Aug. 31, 1986, crash 20 miles southeast of downtown Los Angeles.
More than 100 lawsuits were filed, and millions of dollars in damages could be awarded in the combined trial of those suits.
“People made mistakes,” said Irvine lawyer Joseph T. Cook, who represents the families of the 82 crash victims. “It was a matter of human error.”
The accident occurred as Aeromexico Flight 498, carrying 64 people, approached Los Angeles at an altitude of 6,500 feet. Minutes earlier, a single-engine Piper Archer piloted by engineer William Kramer, 53, of Rancho Palos Verdes, had lifted off from Torrance Airport with his wife and daughter aboard for a pleasure flight.
Claims by Families
The two planes collided in the busy air corridor and plummeted to the ground, burying 15 residents in burning rubble.
Families of crash victims allege that Federal Aviation Administration air traffic controller Walter White failed to alert the Aeromexico pilot to the presence of Kramer’s plane.
Aeromexico blames the FAA and Kramer, who was flying in restricted airspace. The U.S. government says the FAA is blameless and that responsibility lies with both pilots, who should have been watching for each other. Kramer’s survivors blame the FAA.
The jury’s verdict will be binding only as it pertains to Kramer’s responsibility in the crash.
The jury’s findings on Aeromexico and the FAA are only advisory in nature. Kenyon, the judge, is to make the final call on their responsibility, and damages are to be decided at later trials or in settlement talks.
The ability of Kramer’s estate to pay is limited to little more than $1 million from his insurance policy.
An international treaty limits Aeromexico’s responsibility to $75,000 per passenger, but liability for the 15 deaths on the ground and property damage is unlimited.
Aviation lawyers estimate that damages could exceed $300,000 per passenger, and that could leave the U.S. government with the majority of damage judgments.