Jury awards aspiring singer $11 million for injuries from plane crash

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. - A jury Thursday awarded an aspiring opera singer $11 million for injuries she suffered when an American Airlines jet went off a runway last year while landing in a thunderstorm.

Eleven people were killed and more than 80 were injured when the plane hit pylons supporting runway approach lights at Little Rock National Airport and caught fire. The plane stopped just short of the Arkansas River.

The lawsuit brought by Kristin Maddox was the first case dealing with the crash to go to trial. In it, Maddox alleged the airline was negligent for allowing the plane to land during the thunderstorm June 1, 1999.

She had sought $35 million, saying damage to her voice box and hands ruined her dream of having a professional music career. American suggested an award of $3.6 million.

''This isn't over for the survivors for Flight 1420. This will never be over,'' Maddox said. ''I live with it every night in my dreams.''

Maddox's attorney, Bob Bodoin, told jurors that no amount of money would make up for her pain and the loss of a career that could have rivaled opera stars Beverly Sills or Luciano Pavarotti's.

But a former opera singer who teaches voice at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock evaluated a video of one of Maddox's college performances and testified in the trial that while Maddox had a ''light but lovely voice'' it lacked the power and thrust needed to fill an auditorium.

Neither Maddox, 23, nor American Airlines attorney Spence Fricke would say whether they would appeal the jury's decision. Several other lawsuits related to the crash have been settled out of court, and others await trial.

American has contended that the government and an air traffic controller were partly to blame for the crash and that the pilots were given inaccurate information about the weather, runway condition and the airplane's approach.

The National Transportation Safety Board has not issued its final report on the cause of the crash.

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On the Net:

American: http://www.americanairlines.com

NTSB: http://www.ntsb.gov

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