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Lawsuit filed on behalf of 4 victims in Jenni Rivera plane crash

The suit seeks damages against the jet's current and previous owners and also names Jenni Rivera Enterprises. The singer, four members of her entourage and the two pilots died in the Dec. 9 crash.

January 10, 2013|By Adolfo Flores, Los Angeles Times
  • Photographs of singer Jenni Rivera are displayed next to an attorney in downtown Los Angeles announcing a lawsuit on behalf of four members of Rivera’s entourage, who died with her in a plane crash last month.
Photographs of singer Jenni Rivera are displayed next to an attorney in… (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles…)

A company owned by the late Mexican American singer Jenni Rivera was named in a lawsuit filed Thursday on behalf of the four members of her entourage who were killed along with her in a Dec. 9 plane crash.

The suit, filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court, seeks punitive damages against the current owners of the jet, as well as the previous owner, which sold the plane last year.

The negligence suit names Starwood Management, Rodatz Financial Group Inc., McOco Inc. and Jenni Rivera Enterprises Inc.

DOCUMENT: Read the lawsuit

Attorneys named Rivera's company because of its role in choosing to use the 43-year-old Learjet 25.

The plane took off from Monterrey, Mexico, and crashed into mountainous terrain after nose-diving 28,000 feet in 30 seconds. Rivera, the four other passengers and the two pilots were killed.

"We cast a wide net to find out exactly who is responsible, and it may be that they're not," attorney Paul Kiesel said. "We have named Rivera Enterprises, who likely arranged the charter of this plane — in hindsight a very bad decision."

The lawsuit seeks punitive damages against current owners Starwood and Rodatz, as well as previous owner McOco, which sold the plane last June. The attorneys said they were not seeking punitive damages against the singer's company.

The suit was filed on behalf of the estates of publicist Arturo Rivera, makeup artist Jacobo Yebale, attorney Mario Macias and hairstylist Jorge "Gigi" Sanchez.

Pedro Rivera Jr., the singer's brother, said he was unaware of the lawsuit and doubted his sister's company would be found at fault.

"That will more likely have to do with the airplane itself," he said in Spanish via telephone. "Everyone has a right to file a lawsuit. They all had families."

Executives with Starwood told The Times shortly after the crash that the jet was perfectly maintained.

According to aviation records, the aircraft suffered "substantial" damage in 2005 when a fuel imbalance caused one wingtip to weigh as much as 300 pounds more than the other. The unnamed pilot lost control and struck a runway distance marker while landing in Amarillo, Texas. Nobody was injured.

The cause of December's fatal crash has not been determined, and it could take more than a year before the National Transportation Safety Board and Mexican authorities wrap up their investigations, Kiesel said, adding that it wasn't necessary to wait for the results before filing the suit.

At a downtown Los Angeles news conference Thursday, attorneys also took issue with the two pilots, 78-year-old Miguel Soto and 20-year-old Alejandro Torres. Although Soto had a lot of flying hours under his belt, he was not licensed to fly at altitudes above 18,000 feet, and Torres was not licensed to fly the jet, the lawsuit alleges.

"Neither pilot was licensed to operate this aircraft at the time and altitude it was flying," Kiesel said. He said the pilots weren't named in the suit because "the company is at fault, not the employees."

Starwood, Rodatz and McOco could not be reached for comment.

adolfo.flores@latimes.com

Times staff writer Scott Gold contributed to this report.

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