LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) - A federal judge has ruled that the
negligence of two pilots who took off on the wrong runway was a
"substantial factor" in the August 2006 crash of a Comair
regional jet in Lexington.
U.S. District Judge Karl Forester's ruling, issued Thursday
evening in Lexington, arose in a case brought by the family of
Bryan Keith Woodward, a Louisiana resident aboard the plane.
The ruling now leaves a jury to decide if Comair committed
"gross negligence" in the crash of Comair 5191, which the
National Transportation Safety Board has blamed largely on errors
by the two pilots who guided the aircraft to the wrong runway at
Lexington's Blue Grass Airport.
The National Transportation Safety Board found that the pilots'
failed to notice clues they were on the wrong runway. According to
the NTSB, investigators found that the pilots failed to notice
clues they were on a general aviation strip too short for a
commercial plane to execute a proper takeoff.
"The possibility that other factors that may have also
contributed to the crash does not preclude the conclusion that the
pilots' negligence was 'a substantial factor' in producing the
crash," Forester wrote.
A jury will be asked next year to determine if Comair - a
subsidiary of Delta Air Lines, Inc. - should pay punitive damages.
Forty-nine people were killed in the crash. Co-pilot James
Polehinke was the lone survivor.
A jury previously awarded Woodward's family $7.1 million in
compensation and $750,000 for pain and suffering.
David Rapoport, the attorney for Woodward's family, said the
ruling isn't surprising, given the jury's recent damage award.
"Nevertheless the ruling is important because it is the first
judicial determination that the negligence of Comair's pilots was a
substantial factor causing the crash, a ruling Comair may have
avoided forever if Mr. Woodward's family had chosen to settle like
the rest of the passenger families," Rapoport said.
Comair spokeswoman Christine Wever said Comair has acknowledged
a "shared responsibility" for the crash since the accident.
"Our constant commitment has been to do what is reasonable and
appropriate for the victims families," Wever said.
Last year, jury selection in a massive case against Comair was
called off when financial settlements were reached between Comair
and all but two families of the 47 passengers who died. One of
those settled a few weeks later, leaving only the Woodward case,
filed by his wife, Jamie Hebert, and two daughters, Lauren Madison
Hebert, 19, and Mattie-Kay Hebert, 15.
Woodward, 39, and his family lived near Lafayette, La., where he
was an electrician who often worked on offshore oil rigs. He was on
his way to Atlanta for a connecting flight when the plane crashed.
The Heberts, who run a convenience store, were always less
interested in money than the principle of forcing Comair into
taking blame for the crash, Rapoport said.
The amounts of all settlements reached with the other passenger
families were kept confidential. There are still legal matters
pending with the families of the two pilots, Jeffrey Clay, who died
in the crash, and Polehinke.
(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)