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The Topeka Capital-Journal - September 6, 2009

$15 Million Settlement in Chicago Plane Crash

The Topeka Capital-Journal

A wrongful death lawsuit filed on behalf of the estate of a former Topekan and Washburn University graduate who died in an airplane crash in the Chicago area has resulted in a $15 million settlement.

Attorney Gary Robb, who represented the victim’s estate, on Saturday said the settlement was among the largest of its kind.

Michael Waugh, a restaurant and entertainment executive in the Chicago area, was killed Jan. 30, 2006, when the plane he was traveling in crashed just before landing. Waugh, 37, and three other occupants were returning to Chicago’s Paulwakee Municipal Airport after leaving Johnson County Executive Airport in Olathe.

Waugh’s widow and three children brought the wrongful death suit against the estate of the pilot, Mark Turek, claiming pilot negligence, and against Turek’s employer, Morgan Stanley. A civil complaint filed in Cook County, Ill., Circuit Court alleged the financial advising business allowed its employees to use private aircraft flown by nonprofessional pilots on company business. Turek was a senior financial adviser for the investment firm.

“There is a world of difference between a professionally trained pilot and an amateur pilot,” said Robb, an attorney in Kansas City, Mo. “That was the basis of our lawsuit.”

The pilot’s estate and Morgan Stanley settled the suit on Thursday, calling for the defendants to pay Waugh’s widow, Lisa, $6 million and $3 million to each of his three sons, ages 14, 12, and 8. Additionally, Robb said the lawsuit resulted in Morgan Stanley changing its policy on flights, ensuring employees would never again use their private aircraft to transport Morgan Stanley customers.

“That they would permit nonprofessional pilots to fly Morgan Stanley customers on Morgan Stanley business is regrettable,” he said.

Robb said he commended Morgan Stanley for changing its policy. He said knowing a potentially life-saving change was made to company policy brings some comfort to Waugh’s family.

In legal proceedings, Richard Melman, president and chief executive officer of Lettuce Entertain You, described Waugh as a rising star in the company, where Waugh was general manager and chief operating partner at Joe’s Seafood, Prime Steak, and Stone Crab Restaurant, a Chicago dining spot. The job was the reason Waugh decided to transplant his roots in Topeka and relocate to The Windy City.

Raised in Topeka, Waugh graduated from Shawnee Heights High School in 1987. His father, Jack Waugh, formerly was principal there. Michael Waugh received a bachelor’s degree from Washburn in 1992.

Robb said Waugh’s mother, Mary Jo, survives in Topeka and that Waugh often had traveled to the area to visit family members. In fact, it was a financial meeting with Waugh’s father that brought him to Kansas on the day of the crash.

The aircraft, a 1974 Cessna 421B, left Johnson County Executive Airport after Turek and fellow employee Scott Garland arranged a financial meeting with Jack Waugh, who by then was a high school principal in Marysville. The other passenger, Kenneth Knudson, was traveling along to conduct business for his company, Sybaris Clubs.

An investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board determined the crash was a result of the pilot’s error to maintain airspeed during the landing approach, causing it to stall and dive nose first into the ground. The twin-engine airplane crashed into an industrial storage yard, where it exploded upon impact. All four occupants died at the scene.

Cook County Circuit Court Judge John A. Ward described the $15 million settlement as “fair and reasonable under all the relevant circumstances.”

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