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About a year ago, Continental Connection Flight 3407 crashed on to a Buffalo, N.Y. house and killed a man who was in it, and everyone on the plane. The plane was on a one-hour flight from Newark to Buffalo.

Thirty-four wrongful death lawsuits were filed by family members of the deceased passengers. They named several defendants:

  • Continental Airlines;
  • Colgan Air, the Manassas, Va., regional carrier operating the flight;
  • Colgan parent company Pinnacle Airlines of Memphis, Tenn;
  • Bombardier Aerospace, the Montreal-based company that made the plane; and
  • FlightSafety International, a company that helped train the pilots.

Pilot training is an important issue in this case. The National Transportation Safety Board has reported that the pilot’s inappropriate response to a low-speed warning caused the plane to crash five miles from its destination. Those findings cannot be used in court but they support plaintiff claims about pilot error and whether the pilot had been well-trained.

The defendants have filed statements denying that they operated Flight 3407 recklessly, monitored it poorly, or trained its crew improperly. They also deny that the aircraft was ill-equipped to fly in the icy conditions prevailing at the time of the crash.

Punitive Damages?

One James Kreindler, an attorney who has been involved in many similar cases, including Pan Am Flight 103 that crashed over Lockerbie, Scotland, states that a key issue in the outcome of this case is whether or not the plaintiffs will win punitive damages.

  • “That’s what this case is about,” Kreindler said. “It’s not just how inept the pilots were, the mistakes they made, but showing that these were corporations that were not … having properly paid, rested, trained people in the cockpit to save money, and that they should be punished for it.”

Thirty-Page Questionnaires For Plaintiffs

In what Kreindler says is standard paperwork, the plaintiffs have been asked to fill out very detailed questionnaires about their loved ones’ lost earnings and their value to their children’s school, community and family.

One plaintiff, Robin Tolsma, whose husband Darren was killed in the crash, has two children. About the extensive questionnaire, she stated:

  • “They want to go all the way back to high school and find out what kind of student Darren was, was he active in the community, what does he do for the community, how many hours a week does he spend helping the kids with homework, grocery shopping, doing landscaping.”

“It’s like we have to prove our husbands’ lives were worth something,” said Jennifer West, whose husband, Ernie, worked with Darren. “You can’t put a price tag on a human life.”

However, that is exactly what a wrongful death lawsuit must do: quantify the life lost. Plaintiffs will be awarded money, not a restored husband. This is not done from lack of sympathy for the grief and pain of the loss; it is all a settlement or jury award can do. If the plaintiffs win punitive damages, their award amount will be higher, but it is still “just money”.

However, money can bring a lot of comfort in the sense that one knows bills can be paid, the house will not be lost, children can be educated, etc.

If you have lost a loved one because of another person’s negligence, or because of a defective product, you may have a valid legal claim. To learn more, please contact our law office today for a free consultation.

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