MALL INSURERS SETTLE WITH RAMPAGE VICTIMS

MALL INSURERS SETTLE WITH RAMPAGE VICTIMS

Insurance companies for Springfield Mall concluded a multimillion-dollar settlement Tuesday with the victims of Sylvia Seegrist's 1985 rampage, officials involved in the case said.

Western World Insurance Co. of Ramsey, N.J., said it was responsible for paying $1 million. Philadelphia's Chubb & Son Inc. was handling all additional liability.The exact amount was not disclosed, but one person involved in the case acknowledged that it was more than $3 million - possibly much more.

A Delaware County Court jury here in January found the mall liable for the Oct. 30, 1985, carnage in which 10 people were shot, three of them fatally.

The same jury is scheduled to begin deciding next week on the amount of damages for each survivor or the relatives of those slain.

Insurance company officials said they sought to settle quickly rather than take the case to the same jury. By settling out of court, the insurance companies and mall gave up their right to appeal the case.

Ronald Russo, Western World's account executive, characterized the jury's verdict as "a fluke," and several university law school professors said the jury took an exceedingly liberal view in holding the mall liable for the shooting.

William Woodward, a law professor at Temple University in Philadelphia, said the jury's decision in the case had somewhat expanded the concept of property-owner liability.

"What the jury has in effect said is that the mall is responsible for protecting mall shoppers from people like this," he said. "The community expects a fairly high degree of protection."

He predicted that the cost of the settlement eventually would be passed on to shoppers.

Philadelphia trial lawyer John Lord, who has lectured on insurance issues, said the case would be reviewed by other attorneys seeking civil damages from businesses.

"Other plaintiffs' lawyers are obviously aware of it, and they will certainly be more quick to file suit," he said. "Now they say, 'Hey, look, there's another deep pocket we can go after.' "

Mr. Woodward and Mr. Lord said that by settling the case, rather than fighting the jury's decision on appeal, the insurance companies avoided the risk of having it established as a precedent-setting case.

They said it would have significantly altered the responsibility of property owners if a higher court had affirmed the Delaware County Court's decision.

Ms. Seegrist, who opened fire with a .22-caliber rifle at the crowded mall, is in the mental health unit at the State Correctional Institution at Muncy, Pa., after being tried for murder and found guilty but mentally ill in June 1986.

Francis T. Sbandi, the attorney for Grace Trout and the estate of her slain husband, Earl, declined to provide details of the settlement but characterized it as "very substantial."