OKLAHOMA CITY -- The Karen Silkwood case, which dramatically illustrated the dangers of plutonium and raised new questions about the safety of nuclear processing plants, has finally been settled -- out of court -- for $1.38 million.
Silkwood's three children will share $500,000 of Friday's settlement. Lawyers will get the rest.
The lawsuit charged Kerr-McGee, Silkwood's employer, with negligence and inadequate safety procedures and contended the company was responsible for contaminating her and her home with plutonium in the days before she died in an automobile accident Nov. 13, 1974.
Kerr-McGee spokesman Rick Pereles said the company did not admit wrongdoing but agreed to the settlement because of 'burdensome legal costs and significant time demands' in fighting the suit.
'Today marks the end of a chapter in the history of Kerr-McGee that has been difficult,' he said.
Silkwood's father, Bill Silkwood, said, 'I feel pretty good about it. It's been a long 12 years for me.'
He said Kerr-McGee would 'never admit their guilt,' but the world will remember his daughter 'as a person who didn't give up. The courts proved what she said was true.'
He said he agreed to the settlement because 'we might as well get the kids some benefits of the money while they are young.'
Silkwood, 28, a laboratory analyst at the Kerr-McGee Cimarron Nuclear Facility in Crescent, Okla., died in a car crash while driving to meet a New York Times reporter with information about the company's alleged failure to protect workers from radiation.
Silkwood was contaminated with plutonium several times in early November 1974. On the morning of Nov. 7, her apartment also was found to be contaminated, and everything in it had to be destroyed.
Six days later, she died in the traffic accident. Her death inspired a national bestselling book and the movie 'Silkwood' with Meryl Streep in the starring role.
An attorney who represented Silkwood's estate in an historic law suit said it was not what he expected for 10 years work.
'I could have made more working at a Burger King,' said Jim Ikard, who was one of three attorneys to represent the Silkwood family in their suit against Kerr-McGee Corp.
Silkwood's family hired a private detective to investigate suspicions that someone ran her car off the highway, but never raised that allegation in its suit. The documents that Silkwood was said to have been taking to the reporter never were found.
The suit filed by the family in November 1976 dealt with the plutonium contamination of Silkwood and her home.
In an 11-week trial in 1979, the estate won $500,000 for personal injury, $5,000 for property damage and $10 million in punitive damages under state law. The awards later were overturned and a new trial eventually was ordered.
Pereles said company officials believe they would have won the new trial that was ordered by an appeals court and upheld by the Supreme Court.
'We firmly believe Kerr-McGee would have prevailed in the scheduled retrial,' he said. 'However, burdensome legal costs and significant time demands would be imposed on our company and our people by another trial and the inevitable and lengthy appeals.'
After the first trial, the $500,000 personal injury judgment was set aside because it duplicated damages available under the state's worker compensation law.
The multimillion-dollar punitive damage award also was overturned by the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which accepted the company's argument that the award infringed on thefederal government's exclusive authority to regulate nuclear safety.
The Supreme Court on Jan. 11, 1984, ruled 5-4 that state courts could impose punitive damages on the nuclear power industry for safety violations -- a partial victory for Silkwood's family.
But the justices sent the case back to the appeals court to determine the amount of punitive damages, if any, to be assessed against Kerr-McGee. The appeals court then ordered a new trial, saying the first was tainted because of the introduction of improper evidence about Silkwood's personal injuries.
The Supreme Court in May upheld that order for a new trial, despite Kerr-McGee's appeal.
Silkwood's three children -- Beverly Meadows, 19, Michael Meadows, 17, and Dawn Meadows, 15 -- live with their father, Silkwood's ex-husband, William Meadows in Ardmore, Okla.
The two younger children's share will be placed in trust accounts until they are 18.