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The families of four Dow Lohnes & Albertson lawyers killed in a 1998 air collision have settled with the federal government and Southern Co. affiliates for $42 million. Dow Lohnes & Albertson is based in Washington, D.C., but has an Atlanta office. Department of Justice spokesman Charles S. Miller revealed the settlement amount and said the U.S. government will pay $29.4 million while Southern Co. affiliates Georgia Power Co. and Southern Company Services will provide $12.6 million. “All of the lawyers were high-wage earners, and the economic loss for each lawyer was in the tens of millions even with the lowest wage earner,” says Thomas W. Malone, attorney for the family of J. Eric Dahlgren. “We are delighted with the settlement,” says Alston & Bird partner John E. Stephenson Jr., who represented the family of Craig A. Folds. “We think it was resolved on terms that reflect the nature of the tragedy.” The 1998 crash killed Dow Lohnes managing partner Dahlgren, partners Michael P. Fisher and Folds, as well as Chairman Marion H. “Chip” Allen III. Allen was piloting the firm’s Lear jet when it collided with a single-engine Cessna 172 piloted by Rudolf H. Duncan, who also was killed. The plaintiffs claimed Duncan was inspecting power lines for Georgia Power. John Sell, a Georgia Power spokesman, says Duncan “was not working for us at that time.” But the company wants to “move on and put it behind us. Litigation would not have served anybody.” The U.S. government settled with Duncan’s family for $500,000, according to the DOJ spokesman. FAA CONTROLLERS BLAMED Plaintiffs sued the federal government because they alleged that Federal Aviation Administration air controllers didn’t monitor the planes properly. Southern Co. affiliates were sued partly because of claims that Duncan was inspecting power lines. But plaintiffs also alleged that Georgia Power shouldn’t have hired Duncan because the FAA had suspended his pilot’s license twice. Investigators found his transponder, which would have identified his plane to air traffic controllers, in the “off” position. The families of Allen’s passengers agreed at the outset of the settlement negotiations that they would divide their portion of the settlement equally, according to Stephenson. “We determined that we would cooperate and no one passenger plaintiff would get more money than the other,” he says. Allen’s family also shared in the settlement but David M. Zacks, attorney for his estate, wouldn’t reveal the family’s portion. Allen’s attorneys negotiated separately with the defendants. All attorneys for the passenger plaintiffs took their cases on a contingency basis, says Stephenson. He declined to reveal the amount of attorneys’ fees. Initially, the families or estates of all four lawyers filed six suits in Fulton State Court, Atlanta, in January 1999 against Georgia Power, Southern Company Services, and Aerotech Aviation, the company Duncan owned. Allen’s insurance company, United States Aviation Underwriters, filed suits in federal court against the federal government, Georgia Power Co., Southern Company Services, and Duncan’s estate and aviation company. The cases were consolidated in federal court and the docket lists thirty-seven attorneys for the litigants. The case is In re: Mid-Air Disaster, No. 1:99CV315 (N.D. Ga. filed Feb. 2, 1999). Malone says the settlement amount was “agreed to by all the parties and after a long settlement conference that was more like a mediation without the mediator.” The passenger plaintiffs had settled with Allen’s estate and insurance company before the case was filed in state court. “Before we filed suit, we reached an amicable settlement with the Allen interest and the insurer and did take payment from the insurer,” says Alston & Bird’s Jay D. Bennett, who, along with Stephenson, represented Folds’ family. B. Dwight Perry, managing partner of Dow, Lohnes & Albertson’s Washington’s office, says, “The big thing about the settlement is that it lets closure take place. Any time any of us here talked about and thought about it, it opened old wounds for us.”

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