After four years of litigation, an LA judge ruled against Starwood Management Inc, the owner of a Learjet 25 that was carrying Latin music star Jenni Rivera and her entourage when it crashed into the side of a mountain in December of 2012. Long Beach native Rivera was killed, along with two pilots and four of her entourage. The $70 million reward will go to the relatives of the deceased retinue: publicist Arturo Rivera, makeup artist Jacob Yebale, stylist Jorge Sanchez, and lawyer Mario Macias. The judgment provides closure for the families after a long fight against Starwood.
The Los Angeles Supreme Court entered default judgment when Starwood abandoned its defense of the wrongful death lawsuit. The families claimed that the plane's owner had failed to properly maintain the aircraft and train the crew. The plane was built in 1969 and was owned by the Los Vegas-based Starwood. According to records, the aircraft suffered substantial damage in 2005 when a fuel imbalance caused one wingtip to significantly outweigh the other. An unnamed pilot lost control and struck a runway marker in Texas.
In addition, Starwood executive Christian E. Esquino Nunez was accused of conspiring to falsify records documenting the history of planes they bought and sold. Esquino told The Times from Mexico City that the flight was not a charter. Esquino had claimed Rivera was in the final stages of buying the plane for $250,000 and was getting a free demo. According to the lawsuit, the 78-year old pilot was not licensed for the crew he was carrying.
Rivera's husband, former Major League Baseball player Esteban Loaiza, also filed a wrongful death lawsuit for $35 million but retracted it after pressure from her family. They were estranged at the time of her death.
Rivera was a music sensation on both sides of the border. Following the accident, fans gathered outside of her estate in Encino to grieve her, and her family asked Latin radio stations to play her song La Gran Senora (The Great Lady) on the day of her memorial. In 2015, the city of Long Beach dedicated a park to honor Rivera.