Families of two SkyWest pilots killed in a midair collision over Kearns three years ago received nearly twice as much money from the federal government as the families of two private pilots killed in the collision may receive.
The families of SkyWest pilots Michael D. Gambil and Walter F. Ray will receive $600,000 each from the federal government, said James R. Black, attorney for the Ray family.The federal government settled with the SkyWest families in October, halfway through a three-week trial to determine the government's role in the collision.
However, U.S. District Judge Thomas Greene ordered the amount of the settlement sealed until he ruled on the government's liability.
Greene ruled Friday that air traffic controllers at the Salt Lake International Airport - and hence, the federal government - were 51 percent responsible for the Jan. 15, 1987, collision between a SkyWest Metroliner and a private Mooney that left 10 people dead.
Greene found Mooney pilots Chester Baker and Paul Lietz 49 percent responsible for the collision because they were in restricted air space illegally at the time of the accident.
Greene awarded $387,000 to the family of Chester Baker, owner of the Mooney. He awarded $377,000 to the Lietz family.
Black said the SkyWest families received larger settlements than the Mooney families because the SkyWest pilots were young and likely to earn more money over their lifetimes than the Mooney pilots.
The courts consider how much money a deceased person might have earned in a natural lifetime when deciding how much money to award survivors, Black said.
The SkyWest families did as well financially by settling with the government as they would have done if they had refused to settle and stuck with the trial, Black said.
Since Greene found the government responsible for only half of the accident, the SkyWest families could only have received half of what they asked for.
And that's what they got when they settled, Black said. The families sought about $1.2 million.
Even though it was clear early on that the Mooney pilots carried some blame for the accidents, Black said the SkyWest families chose to go after the government.
"Our widows were not inclined to get into the personal assets of the Mooney pilots," Black said.
The Mooney families also received about half of what they sought in their suit against the government.
"The Skywest widows haven't collected their money yet. That should be coming shortly," Black said.
The Mooney families should be so lucky. While attorneys for the Department of Justice would not comment on Greene's ruling, Black said he and other attorneys in the case expect the federal government to appeal Greene's ruling.
The federal government's attorney Richard Nevitte "said all along that if there was an award in the case, the government would likely appeal it," Black said. Department of Justice policy prohibited Nevitte from commenting when the Deseret News contacted him Wednesday.Black noted that Greene's ruling is similar to a ruling made about a collision over Cerritos, Calif., between a private plane and a Mexican airliner that killed more than 80 people four years ago. The judge found the air traffic controllers and the pilots of the private plane jointly responsible for that accident.
"That ruling is on appeal now," Black said.
That was the beauty of settling with the government, he said. His client will not have to go through a drawn-out appeal.