Bessettes Granted Right to Crash Settlement

A judge has given the mother of John F. Kennedy Jr.'s wife and sister-in-law the right to reach a settlement with his estate as a result of their fatal plane crash two years ago.

A lawyer for Ann Freeman, the mother, denied published reports that a $15 million settlement already had been reached.

"I've always said the parties are all reasonable people who would settle this in a nonpublic, nonjudicial way," said Freeman counsel Constantin Ralli.

Surrogate Renee Roth, in a decree signed Monday, said Freeman could settle with the Kennedy estate "for the wrongful death and conscious pain and suffering" of her daughters.

Kennedy, 38, son of the late U.S. president; his wife, Carolyn Bessette Kennedy, 33; and her sister Lauren Bessette, 34, were killed when a single-engine Piper that Kennedy was piloting crashed in the ocean near Martha's Vineyard on July 16, 1999.

Pilot Error Blamed in Crash

Ralli refused to say when the estates would settle or what the likely settlement amount would be.

Martin Edelman, lawyer for the Kennedy estate, could not be reached by telephone for comment.

A report of the National Transportation Safety Board blamed pilot error for the crash, saying Kennedy, who had been flying for 15 months, was not skilled enough for low-visibility night flying.

The judge signed the settlement decree just one week before the two-year statute of limitations for the death claims would have lapsed on July 16.

Kennedy's will, filed in September 1999, left most of his money in a trust that benefits his family and several charities. He left most of his personal belongings to the children of sister Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg.

The size of his estate was not disclosed publicly, but it was believed to be about $50 million.

The judge also ordered Freeman, of Greenwich, Conn., to hold settlement money in a separate account until she deducts legal fees and agrees with ex-husband William Bessette, of White Plains, N.Y., on how to divide it.