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Family Awarded $17.8M From Military Jet Crash

Aired 12/28/11 on KPBS News.

Family members of four people killed when a Marine fighter jet crashed into their University City home three years ago will get $17.8 million in damages for their deaths.

A federal judge ordered the military Wednesday to pay millions to the survivors of relatives killed when a fighter jet crashed into their San Diego home. The award came after a three-day trial.

Firefighters head to battle a fire after an FA-18 military jet crashed in a r...
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Above: Firefighters head to battle a fire after an FA-18 military jet crashed in a residential neighborhood in University City during a training exercise on Dec. 8, 2008.

The Marine Corps F-18 Hornet crashed into a University City home as it tried for an emergency landing at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar three years ago. The student pilot had lost an engine.

While the government admitted it was at fault, it disputed the amount it should pay the family.

Survivors filed suit, seeking $56 million in compensation. U.S. District Judge Jeffrey Miller awarded the family about $18 million.

Don Yoon, who lost his wife and two young children, was awarded $10 million. Yoon’s father-in-law, who also lost his wife in the fiery crash, was awarded $4 million. The remainder went to the father-in-law’s three grown children, who lost their mother.

Family attorney Brian Panish said the survivors forgive the pilot. He read from a statement from Don Yoon:

“I still harbor no ill will against the United States Marine Corps pilot involved in this crash who did everything he could to prevent this tragedy.”

Lawyers for the Department of Justice indicated they will not appeal the judgment, Panish said.

Don Yoon lost his 36-year-old wife, Youngmi Lee Yoon; his 15-month-old daughter, Grace; his 2-month-old daughter, Rachel; and his 59-year-old mother-in-law, Seokim Kim Lee, who was visiting from Korea to help her eldest daughter take care of their children.

Yoon broke down crying throughout his testimony, which came three years to the day when he buried his wife and baby girls in the same casket. He told the judge he only looks forward to the day when he can join them.

Department of Justice attorneys offered their condolences during the trial, but questioned how much the family members depended on each other. The law does not allow victims to be compensated for grief, suffering or punitive damages.

The military disciplined 13 members of the Marines and the Navy for errors leading to the tragedy.

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Avatar for user 'Peking_Duck_SD'

Peking_Duck_SD | December 29, 2011 at 12:05 a.m. ― 5 years, 3 months ago

*"Department of Justice attorneys offered their condolences during the trial, but questioned how much the family members depended on each other."*

Shame, SHAME, *SHAME* on the military.

Questioning how much family members depend on each other?

This should be an absolute *OUTRAGE* to any respectable citizen in our community.

Layers hired by our own MILITARY trying to argue in a court of law that this man did not depend on his family in order to get out of paying damages.

I am absolutely sickened by the disgraceful way Miramar and local military bosses have handled this both when it happened and up until this day.

This is so shameful, but SD is a military town, and our top leaders just want this to go away for as little as possible.

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Avatar for user 'HarryStreet'

HarryStreet | December 29, 2011 at 9:33 a.m. ― 5 years, 3 months ago

The military did not intentionally want this incident to happen. It exercised poor judgment, yes, but the pilot and military did not want this to happen any more than the Yoon family.

We are sorry for the loss inflicted upon the Yoon family and it shows a lot of character for him to have forgiven the pilot and Marine Corps. Still, we need to remember the military is not paying this settlement. The taxpayer is. Where do you suppose the military gets their money?

The reason we need to diligently question monetary awards is because there are many among us who see a big fat pay-day when a tragedy like this happens. Mr. Yoon may very well have neighbors, friends of friends, distant relatives all looking for a piece of the pie. I'm not being cynical, but this is America where our judicial system has time and again been warped.

56 Million! How did they come to that? Could it be the lawyer knew the judge would lower to a percentage affordable based on that request? If the family asked for 18 million would the judge have awarded 6 million, which is about the same percentage as 17 from 56?

Sorry for you loss Mr. Yoon, but since we're footing this bill and there are a lot of frivolous cases out there this needs to be pointed out as diligently as we point out the carelessness of the military's act that caused this loss of life.

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Avatar for user 'genek1953'

genek1953 | December 29, 2011 at 11:46 a.m. ― 5 years, 3 months ago

Yes, my guess is that the attorneys knew that whatever amount they proposed would be reduced by the court according to some unwritten formula. Notice that they immediately declared the judge's award to be "thoughtful, fair and reasoned."

"Questioning how much the family members depended on each other" was an incredibly insensitive choice of words. Better to have just declared they had no idea what a fair amount would be and ask the judge to decide.

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