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Judge approves settlement for wrongful death claims related to Westport crash involving KCFD pumper

westport crash
Posted at 4:56 PM, Jan 17, 2023
and last updated 2023-01-17 19:52:46-05

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — A judge has approved a settlement for the wrongful death claims related to the Westport crash from December of 2021, the KSHB 41 I-Team has learned.

It happened during an afternoon hearing on Tuesday.

The crash involved a Kansas City, Missouri, pumper truck and an SUV near Westport Road and Broadway Boulevard. Three people died, including Michael Elwood, Jennifer San Nicolas and Tami Knight.

The crash was so powerful the vehicles rammed into the former Riot Room, partially collapsing the building.

Less than a month after the crash, the Elwood family filed a wrongful death lawsuit. It was the first in a series of civil lawsuits, which named the city, its fire department and the driver of the KCFD pumper truck that night, Dominic Biscari.

The wrongful death lawsuits were later consolidated.

Under state law, a judge has to find that the settlement is fair and reasonable before approving it.

The total settlement amount approved by the judge on Tuesday added up to $1.6 million.

Each of the victim's families will receive $540,000. Nearly $460,000 of it will come from the city. It's the same amount as the state's sovereign immunity limit of $459,893.

Sovereign immunity limits are a cap on amounts government entities pay in liability cases.

KCMO city council members previously approved a resolution seeking to resolve the civil lawsuits.

The pumper truck driver's personal vehicle insurance also paid $80,000 to each of the families.

The settlement does not impact the other lawsuit related to breach of contract claims.

In November, Biscari and the fire union teamed up with the families of the three victims, seeking more than $32 million from the city in a lawsuit.

The lawsuit alleges the city previously provided legal counsel to employees including firefighters and "created a pattern and practice."

It claims Biscari initially had legal representation by the city, "but in the weeks that followed, the City reversed its position and withdrew as counsel for Biscari."

In response, IAFF Local 42, the fire union, filed a grievance against the city. It claimed failing to provide Biscari with an attorney violated the collective bargaining agreement between the city and union.

The $32 million amount stems from an arbitration award recommended by an arbitrator. A Jackson County District Court Judge later confirmed the arbitration award.

The lawsuit also alleges sovereign immunity and any limitations on damages do not apply because of the breach of contract claims.

The I-Team checked in with the Jackson County Prosecuting Attorney's Office about the criminal investigation. A spokesman said they are still reviewing the case.

The prosecutor's office will decide if Biscari will face criminal charges. The office has had the case since last February.

Elwood's family offered a statement on the settlement through an attorney.

"The Elmwood family is pleased to resolve this phase of the litigation to their satisfaction," the family said in a statement. "They look forward to resolving the second phase. They have no further comment at this time."

The I-Team reached out to the city for a comment, but did not hear back.