$77 million fund created for Nev. air race victims

August 24, 2012 - 6:36 PM

RENO, Nev. (AP) — Organizers of the Reno National Championship Air Races have established a $77 million fund to be distributed to those who suffered injuries or lost family members in last year's mass-casualty crash in Nevada.

Kenneth Feinberg, who oversaw a federal compensation fund for victims of the 9/11 terror attacks, will be the new fund's administrator.

According to the Reno Air Racing Association Accident Compensation Fund's website, the program is designed to provide claimants prompt compensation while avoiding the costs and delays associated with lawsuits.

Compensation will be based on categories of injuries, including $15,000 for bruises and cuts, $45,000 for moderate injuries such as broken bones and torn tendons and $75,000 for major injuries that involved surgery or third-degree burns, the Reno Gazette-Journal reported (http://on.rgj.com/Sx08TN ).

Feinberg said the compensation system was based on the one used for 9/11 victims.

"I am confident that the overwhelming number of eligible death or injury claims will participate in the program," he said.

A modified World War II P-51 Mustang crashed in front of VIP boxes last September at the air races, killing 11 people and injuring about 70 others.

The air racing association admits no liability with its creation of the fund, according to a statement on the website. Claimants who receive compensation money give up all rights to sue the association.

Mike Houghton, president of the air racing association, said there has not been an "overwhelming desire to litigate" by victims and the fund is a good resolution to the need for compensation.

"There is a desire to resolve the issues of compensation — that's the core desire," he told the Gazette-Journal. "I believe everyone has been moving ahead to reach an equitable position so they can avoid litigation."

Linda Elvin, of Overland Park, Kan., who was seriously injured along with her husband, Brian, in the crash, told The Associated Press that she had not heard of the new fund and would not comment on it.

All four lawsuits filed against the air racing association to date have been put on hold while the parties discuss a settlement. Lawyers have said that hundreds of other victims were considering claims but have not yet filed.

Attorneys Tony Buzbee of Houston and David Casey of San Diego, both of whom represent victims in lawsuits, did not respond to requests for comment Friday.

Reno lawyer Bill Bradley, who represents a number of victims who have not yet filed claims, said the fund was a unique way to resolve claims.

"The fund is the product of a joint effort by lawyers representing victims and the Reno Air Racing Association to create an efficient and prompt resolution of their claims," he said. "This fund was created through a lot of cooperation."

Pilot Jimmy Leeward, 74, of Ocala, Fla., was traveling at 530 mph when his plane took an upward pitch, then nose-dived into the ground, blasting out a 3-foot-deep, 8-foot-wide crater in a hail of debris. The crash killed him and 10 spectators.

Federal safety regulators are focusing on loose screws in the tail of the plane as a likely cause of the crash.

The National Transportation Safety Board has completed its investigation into the crash, and will determine the probable cause at a meeting Monday in Washington.

Feinberg has been tapped previously to administer other high profile funds, including the compensation fund for 9/11 victims and the $20 billion fund set up to pay victims of the April 20, 2010, BP Gulf of Mexico oil well blowout.

While he was lauded for his work with 9/11 victims, the oil spill efforts proved a daunting task for the Washington lawyer as thousands of claimants from fishermen to oyster shuckers, business owners and hotel operators complained payments were just coming too slowly or not at all.

Feinberg tweaked the program repeatedly to speed up the process, but insisted throughout it was working well. The fund paid out more than $6 billion of BP money to 225,000 claimants during the 18 months Feinberg administered the program.

Although the subject of much criticism from some local officials and unhappy claimants, it received generally high marks for fairness and efficiency from auditors hired by the U.S. Justice Department to review its performance.

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Information from: Reno Gazette-Journal, http://www.rgj.com