SAN DIEGO--(BUSINESS WIRE)--A United States District Court Judge today returned a $17,845,000 verdict for the heirs of four people killed when a U.S. Marine F-18 fighter jet crashed into their family home on December 8, 2008. This verdict is believed to be the largest wrongful death verdict in history against the United States of America. Trial lawyers Brian Panish and Kevin Boyle of Los Angeles’s Panish Shea & Boyle LLP, along with Judge Peter Polos (ret.) and Raymond Feldman, represented Don Yoon and the Lee family in the three-day trial.
Prior to trial, the United States admitted that they were at fault for the plane crash, in which faulty maintenance caused a disabled plane while on a training flight. Once the plane became disabled in flight, the Marine student-pilot ejected over a San Diego neighborhood, causing the plane to crash into the Yoon family home.
Four people in the home burned to death: Youngmi Lee Yoon (age 36), Grace Yoon (age 1 year and 3 months), Rachel Yoon (age 7 weeks), and Seokim Kim Lee (age 59). The issue at trial was the amount of compensation the families would receive for the loss of the love and companionship of their deceased family members.
The cases of the Yoon and Lee families were tried together before Judge Jeffery Miller of the United States District Court for the Southern District of California. The plaintiff in the Yoon action was San Diego resident Don Yoon (age 40), who lost his wife (Youngmi Lee Yoon) and two young daughters (Grace and Rachel Yoon). The plaintiffs in the Lee action were Mr. Sangyuhn Lee (age 60), who lost his wife (Seokim Kim Lee) and his adult daughter (Youngmi Lee Yoon), as well as the three adult children of Seokim Kim Lee, who lost their mother.
The plaintiffs and the United States agreed before trial that California law would apply to the cases. California law allows for family members of wrongful death victims to recover what is known as “non-economic” damages, which provide monetary recovery for the loss of their relationship with the decedents.
In ruling, Judge Miller detailed the profound loss resulting from the deaths of the four family members. He found that Youngmi “was a remarkable young woman in her own right”, providing service to others in her work as a nurse, and becoming a “loving health provider, wife and mother.” “Youngmi was the love of Don Yoon’s life, someone he had waited for and someone who possessed all the qualities he cherished. The loss of Youngmi with her extraordinary gifts of love, guidance, companionship, care and comfort, once again, practically defies measure.” Judge Miller rejected the Government’s argument that the young ages of Grace and Rachel diminished the value of Don Yoon’s loss when they died, finding that their deaths “have deprived Don Yoon of the comfort, companionship, society and love a young child is capable of providing to a new parent and, then, in later life…The loss of a young child also deprives a parent of the instinctive need to nurture, guide, and love that child.” Judge Miller found that Seokim Kim-Lee, Youngmi’s mother who was in San Diego helping the Yoon's care for their newborn daughter, “was an extraordinary woman whose profound and loving influence greatly molded, directly or indirectly, virtually every Plaintiff in this case. And it’s that remarkable influence which informs and helps to measure what fair and reasonable compensation should be awarded in this case.” “The care, comfort, companionship, guidance, and love provided by Ms. Kim-Lee to her family are virtually immeasurable.”
Trial attorney Brian Panish stated: “These two families were devastated by the crash, and they deserve justice. They will never have back what they have lost. The United States will survive this verdict, and will hopefully do the right thing and honor the Court’s judgment.”
This is the third eight-figure verdict obtained by Brian Panish in 2011 and the fourth eight-figure verdict obtained by Panish Shea & Boyle LLP this year.
Don Yoon, et al. v. United States
Case No. 3:10-CV-1578 JM
United States District Court for the Southern District of California
The Hon. Jeffery Miller, presiding