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Settlements Reported in Two Families' Civil Suits Over 'Twilight Zone' Deaths

June 03, 1987|PAUL FELDMAN | Times Staff Writer

Agreements have been reached in longstanding civil lawsuits filed against director John Landis and several other defendants by the parents of two children killed in the 1982 "Twilight Zone" film set accident, sources close to the cases said Tuesday.

Attorneys in the civil cases said they could not confirm any settlements publicly because of a gag order imposed by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Dana Senit Henry. One source said, however, that a "firm" agreement was reached last month to settle the cases filed by the families of the late Renee Chen, 6, and Myca Dinh Lee, 7, for about $2 million for each family.

A court hearing on the cases is scheduled before Henry next Tuesday, and lawyers said motions could be made then to lift the gag order.

Defendants in the suits include Landis and four film-making associates who were acquitted last Friday by a Los Angeles Superior Court jury of involuntary manslaughter charges in the deaths of the children and actor Vic Morrow. Also among the civil defendants are Warner Bros. Inc., which distributed the film; executive producer Steven Spielberg and Bell Helicopters, which manufactured the aircraft that plummeted out of control and killed the actors after being struck by a special-effects explosive.

Morrow's children agreed to an undisclosed settlement in a separate lawsuit settled shortly after the 1982 accident.

After the criminal verdict last Friday, Ned Good, an attorney for the Lee family, said his civil lawsuit would "absolutely go forward" and said the defendants were "clearly guilty of negligence."

Michael L. Robins, an attorney representing special-effects coordinator Paul Stewart in the civil suits, said Tuesday that Good's statement is "totally false in all respects."

Robins added that he could not comment directly on whether the civil cases have been settled because of the gag order, which was apparently imposed at least in part to avoid the case having any effect on jurors in the criminal case.

Good declined to return phone calls Tuesday.

Jerome Berchin, who represents the Chen family, said he could not comment because of the gag order.

Warner vice president and general counsel John A. Schulman, whose firm's insurance carriers would presumably pay a significant part of the settlements, said, "Pursuant to court order, we're restrained from discussing the civil suits at this time."

When filed, the lawsuits had sought damages of more than $200 million from the defendants. The two children, whose parents witnessed their deaths on the film set at Indian Dunes Park, had been hired illegally to work on the late night-filming by Landis and two co-defendants, associate producer George Folsey Jr. and unit production manager Dan Allingham.

Rather than being charged criminally with the illegal hiring, however, Landis, Folsey and Allingham were accused of involuntary manslaughter stemming from alleged criminal negligence.

A Jan. 8, 1988, trial date for the Lee and Chen suits is still listed on the court calendar, according to a clerk in Judge Henry's court.

Staff writer Tracey Kaplan contributed to this article.

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