Judge authorizes settlement in Bessette-Kennedy wrongful death lawsuit
By Samuel Maull, Associated Press, 07/12/01
NEW YORK -- A Manhattan judge has given the mother of Carolyn Bessette Kennedy and Lauren Bessette permission to settle claims against John F. Kennedy Jr.'s estate stemming from their fatal plane crash two years ago.
Surrogate Renee Roth, in a decree signed Monday, authorized Ann Freeman to settle with Kennedy's estate "for the wrongful death and conscious pain and suffering" of her daughters.
Kennedy, 38, son of the late U.S. president; his wife, Carolyn, 33; and her sister Lauren, 34, were killed when a single-engine Piper that Kennedy was piloting crashed in the ocean near Martha's Vineyard on July 16, 1999.
Freeman's lawyer, Constantin Ralli, refused to say when the estates would settle or what the likely settlement amount would be. He said he had no idea of the source of published reports putting the settlement figure at $15 million.
"I've always said the parties are all reasonable people who would settle this in a nonpublic, nonjudicial way," Ralli said.
Martin Edelman, lawyer for the Kennedy estate, could not be reached by telephone for comment.
Kennedy and his wife were on their way to a cousin's wedding at Hyannis Port, Mass. They planned to drop off Lauren at Martha's Vineyard en route.
A report of the National Transportation Safety Board blamed pilot error for the crash, saying Kennedy, who had been flying for 15 months, was not skilled enough for low-visibility nighttime flying.
The judge signed the settlement decree just one week before the two-year statute of limitations for the death claims would have lapsed on July 16.
Payment of the settlement to Freeman, who administers Bessette Kennedy's estate, would "discharge and release" Kennedy's estate "from all suits and claims," the judge's decree says.
Kennedy's will, filed in September 1999, left most of his money in a trust that benefits his family and several charities. He left most of his personal belongings to the children of sister Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg.
The size of his estate was not disclosed publicly, but it was believed to be about $50 million. The size of the trust was not disclosed.
The judge also ordered Freeman, of Greenwich, Conn., to hold settlement money in a separate account until she deducts legal fees and agrees with ex-husband William Bessette, of White Plains, N.Y., on how to divide it.