The U.S. Department of Justice has decided not to appeal a federal judge's ruling blaming the federal government for a 1987 midair collision over Kearns that killed 10 people.
U.S. District Judge Thomas Greene ruled in December that the federal government was 51 percent responsible for the Jan. 15, 1987, collision between a SkyWest commuter airplane and a private plane. In his ruling, Greene said an air traffic controller at the Salt Lake International Airport should have warned the SkyWest plane of the private plane's presence in the minutes before the collision.Greene ordered the government to pay nearly $800,000 to the families of the two pilots flying the private plane that collided with SkyWest. The government settled with the families of the SkyWest pilots during a three-week trial in October, paying each $600,000.
The Department of Justice refused to comment on Greene's ruling in December, saying it planned to appeal that ruling. But after negotiations with the families' attorneys, the federal government has foregone the appeal and agreed to pay a slightly reduced sum to the two Utah families.
The Department of Justice announced that decision Tuesday.
"We urged the government not to appeal," said Ed Havas, attorney for the family of pilot Paul Lietz. "We thought Judge Greene's decision was a legitimate and well-written decision that would be substantiated on appeal."
In exchange for the prompt payout, the families' attorneys agreed not to ask the government to pay expenses incurred in the case.
"We had claimed about $15,000 in expenses," Havas said. "But the government was going to contest them so I'm not sure all of them were going to be paid."
Each family also agreed to a $5,000 reduction in their settlement. The Lietz family will receive $372,000 from the government instead of the $377,000 Greene awarded them. The family of pilot Chester Baker will receive $382,000 instead of $387,000.
"We feel like the concessions we made were slight and more than worth it to avoid the delay an appeal would entail," Havas said.