Punitive Damages for Families of Crash Victims Allowed in Comair Lawsuits
According to a federal judge’s ruling, punitive damages can be sought by the families of Comair Flight 5191 crash victims.
US District Judge Karl Forester’s ruling states that sufficient evidence exists to enable a jury to determine if management of the airline is responsible for the commuter jet crash that killed 49 people just after take-off from Blue Grass Airport in Lexington, Kentucky August 27, 2006.
After its investigation, the National Transportation Safety Board ruled that the Comair crash was mainly caused by pilot error. Comair admitted that the pilots took off from the wrong runway, but stated that the company did not authorize nor ratify the pilots’ conduct and therefore should not be subject to punitive damages.
But, according to the judge’s ruling, plaintiffs produced enough evidence to show negligence in Comair policies and training, including that Comair failed to require its pilots check instruments to verify runway heading. Plaintiffs say the evidence overwhelmingly proves Comair was grossly negligent in corporate oversight of its safety program.
Comair accepted responsibility for its crew’s mistakes and admitted its pilots failed to keep “situational awareness,” but said the company had no reason to expect the pilots would fail to perform their duties.
Plaintiffs say the evidence proves the pilots’ reckless operation of the commuter jet was a foreseeable consequence of Comair management decisions. The evidence shows this was not the first time one of Comair’s flight crews took off from the wrong runway, and that Comair was aware of the error, yet failed to adopt measures designed to require cross-checking of the runway heading. Plus, Comair’s policies do not ban pilots from taking off at night on unlit runways. The Blue Grass Airport runway was unlit, which was said to have been a factor in the crash.
The judge noted plaintiffs’ evidence in his ruling, stating that it sufficiently raises the question to a jury of whether or not Comair should have anticipated its pilots’ conduct.
Punitive damages can now be sought in pending Comair lawsuits. About a third of the cases filed have already been settled.