Wellstone plane crash settlement is unfitting

Last week, lawyers representing the families of the late Sen. Paul Wellstone and five others killed in the October 2002 plane crash secured a $25 million settlement for their clients. The distribution of settlement dollars among the surviving families is uneven. Survivors of the late senator and his wife Sheila will receive a total of $10.25 million, while the remaining four families will receive far less. The uneven division seems inappropriate, especially given Wellstone’s progressive economic ideology.

As a senator, Wellstone was a champion of the working poor. Wellstone was one of the few senators who tried to stay the onslaught against welfare programs that buffeted Congress in the late 1990s. Preserving the dignity and economic solvency of all working Americans was one of Wellstone’s most important crusades.

This settlement is disappointing in light of what Wellstone stood for. According to the terms of the settlement, job and societal status of the deceased did play a large role in determining what each family got.

The settlement seems to reinforce the idea that some people are more valuable than others, and that extreme gaps in compensation are morally acceptable, a conclusion Wellstone would have found hard to accept. Putting a price on a person’s worth doesn’t seem like a practice he would support.

Despite the unevenness of the distribution, the enormity of the settlement should ensure every family involved in the settlement never experiences economic paucity. That is beside the point, however: The death of Wellstone, a champion of economic justice, has spawned a very unequal settlement. Hopefully, its irony will spark a debate over how such settlement decisions are reached in the first place.