Flt 5191 Families seek compensation for financial, emotional losses

LEXINGTON, KY -- Filed among more than 3,000 court pleadings, pretrial memorandums for the families of victims of Comair Flight 5191 provide new details about their horrific deaths nearly two years ago -- and the families' suffering and loss since, reports the Louisville Courier-Journal in its Sunday edition.

Brian Byrd, who had boarded Comair Flight 5191 on his way to be married on a Caribbean island, was burned alive when the plane crashed, his family's lawyers say. He was found with his arm wrapped around his fiancée, Judy Rains, reports the Courier-Journal.

Salutatorian of her senior class at Lexington's Henry Clay High School and a magna cum laude graduate of the University of Virginia, Marcie Reynolds Thomason, 25, a certified public accountant, would have made more than $20 million in her lifetime, her family's lawyers say.

Joan Winters watched her 16-year-old daughter Paige board the doomed flight at Lexington's Blue Grass Airport, then for hours desperately tried to reach Paige by cell phone. Nobody would tell her why the airport had suddenly closed.

Lawsuits filed for the estates of Byrd, Thomason and Paige Winters have been settled, but three sample Comair cases are scheduled for trial a week from tomorrow in U.S. District Court in Lexington, where a jury will be asked to fix liability for the disaster and to award compensatory and punitive damages, reports the C-J.

The plaintiffs allege that Capt. Jeffrey Clay and First Officer James Polehinke committed a series of inexcusable blunders before they took off from the wrong runway and crashed on Aug. 27, 2006, killing all aboard except for Polehinke.

The families also allege that Comair was negligent in training both pilots and in hiring Polehinke in 2002 without discovering that he'd been convicted of drunken driving in the early 1990s and was involved in a 1999 domestic dispute that ended with his wife shooting him, the C-J reports.

Comair has admitted its pilots made errors but has blamed the 2006 crash in part on the Federal Aviation Administration, for violating its own rules by having only one controller on duty. The controller has said he turned his back as the aircraft was taxiing to work on administrative chores.

The airline's claims against the airport and a company that makes airport diagrams were dismissed. The families' lawsuits name Comair and Polehinke as defendants; some families also have filed claims against the U.S. government over the FAA's role, the newspaper reports.

In a statement issued last week, Comair spokeswoman Kate Marx said there is "no question that that accident has had a tremendous effect" on the families of victims, among others. She declined to respond to the lawsuits' specific assertions about economic damages or injuries.

The National Transportation Safety Board said last year that pilot errors were the probable cause of the crash, but a contributing factor was the FAA's failure to require air traffic controllers to issue specific clearances to cross runways, reports the newspaper.

Airline disaster lawsuits rarely get to trial, and opposing counsel in the Comair cases have negotiated a flurry of settlements in the past few weeks. Only 10 of 47 suits were still pending as of Friday, and it is possible that the balance will be resolved this week, averting the Aug. 4 trial.

The settlements are confidential, but Chicago lawyer Robert Clifford, whose firm resolved cases for five victims, said Comair "treated my clients fairly."

Yet Kathleen Moscoe, whose daughter Cecile Moscoe, 29, was killed as she headed to New Orleans to help Hurricane Katrina victims, said in an interview that her recent settlement provides little solace.

"I don't think anything would," she said, declining to provide settlement specifics, reports the Louisville Courier-Journal.

Copyright - The Louisville Courier-Journal

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