A judge has awarded $70 million to the families of the four staffers of the late Latin music superstar Jenni Rivera who died along with the performer when their private plane crashed in Mexico in 2012.
Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Holly Kendig entered the default judgment Tuesday against Starwood Management Inc., the owner of the Learjet that was carrying Rivera and her entourage when it smashed into the side of a mountain.
The judgment came after Starwood abandoned its defense of the wrongful-death lawsuit and ceased to represent itself in court proceedings.
Rivera's family was not involved in the lawsuit.
Whatever funds are recouped from the judgment will go to relatives of the singer-songwriter's deceased retinue: publicist Arturo Rivera, makeup artist Jacob Yebale, stylist Jorge Sanchez and lawyer Mario Macias.
"It provides an element of closure for the families that Starwood has been held responsible for this tragedy," said Paul R. Kiesel, the attorney who represented the families. "Now, the next chapter begins to recover the substantial damages caused by this loss."
Rivera, a native of Long Beach, and six others, including two pilots, died Dec. 9, 2012, when the private jet dropped 28,000 feet in 30 seconds and crashed into the rugged terrain.
The families of those killed had claimed that the plane's owner had neglected to properly maintain the aircraft and train the crew, according to court papers.
The Learjet 25 carrying Rivera from a performance in Monterrey, Mexico, was built in 1969 and was owned by Las Vegas-based Starwood, according to aviation records. The pilot, according to the lawsuit, was not licensed for the passenger load he was carrying.
According to aviation records, the aircraft suffered "substantial" damage in 2005 when a fuel imbalance caused one wingtip to weigh as much as 300 pounds more than the other. An unnamed pilot lost control and struck a runway distance marker while landing in Amarillo, Texas. No one was injured.
In addition, a Starwood executive, Christian E. Esquino Nunez, was accused of conspiring with associates in the 1990s and 2000s to falsify records documenting the history of planes they bought and sold — including tail numbers, inspection stamps and logbooks, records show.
Esquino told The Times from Mexico City in 2012 that the flight was not a charter, as authorities have said. Rather, Rivera was in the final stages of buying the plane from Starwood for $250,000; the flight was offered as a free "demo."
Rivera's husband, former Major League Baseball player Esteban Loaiza, also filed a wrongful-death suit against the plane's owners. At the time of her death, Loaiza was separated from the superstar.
Known as the diva de la banda, Rivera was a music sensation on both sides of the border, and her death triggered an outpouring of grief and shock. In 2015, the city of Long Beach dedicated a park to Rivera.
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