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A Little Rock, Ark., jury has awarded $5.7 million to a 37-year-old woman injured in the 1999 crash of an American Airlines flight. But it rejected plaintiff Nancy Chu’s call for punitive damages linked to a romantic affair she had with an airline worker assigned to deal with her after the crash. The jury didn’t buy her claim that American was negligent in not training the worker about the dangers of such relationships. But, in an unusual gesture, the jury asked U.S. District Judge Henry Woods to read a prepared statement recommending that the airline include in the training program for its Care Assistance Relief Effort (CARE) workers a warning about “potential problems that can occur when CARE team members become personally involved with victims or family members.” Chu was injured when American Airlines Flight 1420 crashed just before midnight on June 1, 1999, at Little Rock National Airport. The pilot attempted to land in a thunderstorm, said plaintiff’s counsel Frank L. Branson, of Dallas’ Law Offices of Frank L. Branson. The plane went off a runway, ran into a light stanchion, broke apart and caught fire. Eleven people were killed, including the pilot, and more than 100 were injured. Chu was briefly unconscious after the plane crashed, but was able to exit the aircraft. VISITED BY CARE WORKERS Following the accident, Chu was visited by two workers from American Airlines’ CARE program. The CARE program was established in 1993 to provide assistance to family members or passengers involved in an accident, said defense counsel Stephen Schoettmer of Dallas’ Thompson & Knight. “This includes retrieving baggage or bringing other family members into town, but it doesn’t include counseling or other professional support,” Schoettmer said. But while one CARE worker left Little Rock, the other, James Struthers, began an affair with Chu that lasted eight months. Chu sued American Airlines and, like the other passengers and families of the injured or dead on Flight 1420, charged that the pilot’s negligence in landing during a severe thunderstorm had caused the crash. Chu claimed post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and mild brain damage. But she also charged that the affair with Struthers had exacerbated her emotional distress and that American Airlines was responsible because it had failed to select, train or supervise its employee properly. Chu contended that the conduct of American’s employee in becoming sexually involved with her constituted extreme and outrageous conduct and, as a result, American should pay punitive damages. Struthers had informed a member of American Airlines management in Canada about the affair, said Branson. “But American did nothing.” Instead, he said, “Struthers received a promotion and additional CARE team training.” Prior to trial, American stipulated to liability for the crash but denied negligence in training or supervising Struthers. “This individual was aware that his conduct was inappropriate,” said Schoettmer. In addition, American Airlines did not know about the affair, said Schoettmer. While a management employee in Canada was informed in late 1999 by Struthers of the relationship, this information was never passed on, he said. “The company was unaware of the conduct of Struthers until Chu’s claim was brought. This was a surprise to the company,” Schoettmer said. American asked for Struthers’ resignation after finding out about the affair, he added. American also denied that the affair had any deleterious effect on Chu. “While American believes that the relationship was inappropriate and wrong, the relationship did not result in an additional damage to Chu,” Schoettmer said. On April 18, the Little Rock jury awarded Chu $5.7 million for her injuries in the crash, but did not find negligence in American Airlines’ training or supervising of its CARE workers. The jury also found Struthers’ conduct did not warrant any punitive damages. But, Branson noted, “the jury did find that the sexual relationship began in the scope of Struthers’ employment and asked to make a statement.” The statement recommended that American “add a scenario in the training program,” outlining the problems of CARE team-member involvement with victims or family members, has no legal effect on the airline. Chu v. American Airlines Inc., 4:00CV00495 (E.D. Ark.).

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