KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Attorneys Tuesday presented dramatically different pictures of the long-term effect the Hyatt Regency hotel skywalks collapse had on a woman injured in the tragedy.
In opening statements to a jury hearing the first trial concerning the collapse, a lawyer for Kay Kenton, 28, of Kansas City, said his client will never recover from severe physical and psychological traumas in the July 17, 1981, disaster. Miss Kenton is seeking an unspecified amount of damages in Jackson County Circuit Court.
A defense attorney for the seven corporations contended Miss Kenton's recovery has been 'amazing' and warned jurors not to focus on the overall terror of the Hyatt disaster.
Miss Kenton's is one of about 40 cases pending in state court to determine actual damages such as lost wages, medical expenses, disability and past and future pain and suffering. Defendants in the cases are not contesting fault or liability.
Many Hyatt-related lawsuits and claims have been settled out of court but this marks the first case to go to trial. The collapse of the two skywalks during a Friday night tea dance resulted in the death of 214 people and injury to more than 200.
Miss Kenton had an interest in physical fitness before she suffered a broken neck and spinal cord damage in the skywalks catstrophe, said attorney Max Foust.
'She was young, she was beautiful, she was full of life and she was full of ambition,' Foust said in his opening statements. But now she walks with crutches, has trouble breathing and never will be able to have normal childbirth, he added.
Foust said testimony would show that Miss Kenton, who had completed two years of law school before she was injured, would never be able to practice law full time.
Dr. Walter Menninger, in a videotaped testimony, will tell the jury that Miss Kenton 'has what is known in that field as a post-traumatic stress syndrome, chronic and severe,' Foust said. Menninger is a senior staff psychiatrist at the Menninger Foundation in Topeka, Kan.
But a defense attorney, Michael Waldeck, said the psychiatrist will testify that 'in reasonable bounds, if the she channels the anger that now exists, she can do what she sets her mind to do.'
Waldeck told the jury of eight women and four men that the defense will argue that Miss Kenton 'has made dramatic and amazing progress.'