SAN DIEGO - A federal judge on Wednesday ordered the U.S. government to pay $17.8 million to a family that lost four members when a Marine Corps fighter jet crashed into their San Diego home in 2008.
U.S. District Judge Jeffrey Miller's ruling came after a nonjury trial between the Department of Justice and the family, who sought $56 million for emotional and monetary loss. The Marine Corps blamed the crash on a mechanical failure and human errors.
The case was unique in that the government admitted liability but disputed how much should be paid to Don Yoon and his extended family. Government lawyers had put economic losses at about $1 million but left it up to Miller to decide how much should be paid for the emotional loss.
Don Yoon lost his 36-year-old wife, Youngmi Lee Yoon; his 15-month-old daughter, Grace; his 2-month-old daughter, Rachel; and his 59-year-old mother-in-law, Seokim Kim Lee, who was visiting from Korea to help her eldest daughter take care of their children.
The judge said the deaths of the two girls deprived Yoon of "the comfort, companionship, society and love a young child is capable of providing to a new parent and, then, in later life. By all accounts, the Yoon girls would have been raised with traditional cultural and family values emphasizing love and devotion to parents and family."
He ordered Yoon to be awarded nearly $10 million, and his father-in-law to be given nearly $4 million. The rest should go to the father-in-law's three adult children for the loss of their mother, Seokim Kim Lee.
Miller called her an extraordinary woman after hearing the testimonies of her husband and children, who flew in from Korea to testify at the trial.
The family's attorney, Brian Panish, said he found the amount "fair and just." Department of Justice attorneys could not be immediately reached for comment.
The Marine Corps has said the plane suffered a mechanical failure but a series of bad decisions led the pilot a student to bypass a potentially safe landing at a coastal Navy base after his engine failed on Dec. 8, 2008. Low oil pressure killed the jet's first engine, and the second died when fuel stopped flowing from the tank.
The military disciplined 13 members of the Marines and the Navy for the errors. The pilot ejected and told investigators he screamed in horror as he watched the jet plow into the neighborhood, incinerating two homes.
Yoon broke down crying throughout his testimony, which came three years to the day when he buried his wife and baby girls in the same casket. Yoon told the judge he only looks forward to the day when he can join them again.
"The family is happy that this part of the process is over, but they've lost so much that they will never get back," Panish said.