Bwi Neighbors Say Jury's Award Comes As Letdown

October 10, 1991|By Deidre Nerreau McCabe | Deidre Nerreau McCabe,Staff writer

Families who fought Baltimore-Washington International Airport for six years over noise pollution that they say ruined their health and homes expressed disappointment over a jury award of nearly $100,000.

"I have very mixed emotions about it," said Richard Young, who still lives with his wife, Dorothy, in the Brookfield North section of Glen Burnie, next to the airport.

Young said he does not think the $12,000 awarded to him and his wife covered "a fraction" of the damages they suffered, the loss of value to their home and the emotional stress experienced over the years.

Each day, he said, hundreds of planes fly over his home, some close enough to rattle dishes and crack glassware.

"You don't know what it's like," he said. "The loss of sleep, glasses broken, chandeliers cracked. You can't go out in your own yard."

After seeing a small plane crash in nearby Friendship Park six years ago, Young said he and his wife are constantly "a wreck" worrying a plane might crash into their home.

"It's very frightening," he said.

After a 12-day trial and nearly three days of deliberation, a county Circuit Court jury found late Tuesday that the airport caused the families "bodily and emotional injury." It also said Baltimore-Washington International Airport officials were negligent in not telling the families their homes were being built in a noise zone in the mid- to late 1970s.

The jury awarded each of the 20 adults who sued BWI amounts rangingfrom $2,300 to $6,000, but no awards were made to the 17 children named in the lawsuit. The jury also did not compensate residents for what they consider to be lost value on their homes due to the noise from planes flying overhead.

The 37 individuals named in the suit hadasked for amounts ranging from $5,000 to $250,000 apiece.

Young was distressed that the jury offered no compensation for lost propertyvalue, which he estimates comes to half his home's market value. Buthe was particularly upset that no award was made for the 17 children, including his 18-year-old daughter.

"Those 17 children were neglected. Why no award for them? Are they nobody?" he asked.

Young said his daughter, now in college, was so bothered by the noise that she started staying at her aunt's or grandmother's houses in Pasadena when she was 9 or 10 years old.

Joyce Saddler, who eventually movedto Severna Park because she could not stand the noise, said fightingthe state for the past six years has taken its toll.

"The state fought this all the way. They didn't want to give us anything," she said. "It's a miracle we even got it into the court system. I guess we were lucky we got anything at all."

Although she is not happy withthe monetary award, Saddler said, she does not want to appeal. "It'sover for me," she said.

Lawyer Joseph A. Miklasz, who representedthe 10 families, said BWI outgunned and outspent his clients many times over trying to beat their case.

"We think they spent $300,000 to $400,000 on this, compared to the $5,000 to $10,000 the families had," he said. "We had a very tough time fighting this."

Linda Green, spokeswoman for BWI, said airport administrators did not want to comment on specific legal aspects of the case.

Administrators said the low monetary awards reflected efforts made over the past decade by BWI to reduce the noise's impact on nearby homes, a project that already has cost millions of dollars.

Green said BWI will spend $147million over the next six years for additional noise-abatement projects, including soundproofing homes and acquiring property where soundproofing won't help.

More than 800 homes have been identified for soundproofing, she said, and work has been done on 61 of them. The remaining homes will be soundproofed over the next six years.

Green said that the airport has tried to be responsive to residents' complaints about noise and that officials have met regularly with representatives from affected communities. No additional civil lawsuits involving noise problems are pending against the airport, she said.

Miklasz said he would meet with his clients this week to determine if anywished to appeal the jury's decision. He believes the trial judge, Circuit Court Judge Eugene Lerner, gave the jury too narrow a definition of what constitutes lost property value.

If the judge had described the losses suffered by his clients differently, he said, the jury might have made higher awards.

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