A year after Continental Connection Flight 3407 plunged into a house near Buffalo, killing all 49 people on board and a man in the house, lawyers are preparing to negotiate in dollars and cents the price of raw grief and loss.
Thirty-four lawsuits filed by the husbands, wives and children of passengers demand compensation for negligence, wrongful death and punitive damages from Houston-based Continental Airlines and Colgan Air, the Manassas, Va., regional carrier operating the Feb. 12, 2009, flight. Also named are Colgan parent Pinnacle Airlines of Memphis, Tenn.; Montreal-based Bombardier Aerospace, which made the plane; and FlightSafety International, which helped train the pilots.
The flight took off from Newark Liberty International Airport.
Spouses have been asked to complete 30-page questionnaires meant to help establish not only loved ones’ lost earnings, but the individual’s value to school, community and family.
“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,” said Robin Tolsma. Her husband, Darren, a father of two, worked for defense contractor Northrup-Grumman and died in Row 4 on the hour-long flight from Newark.
“It’s like we have to prove our husbands’ lives were worth something,” said Jennifer West, whose husband, Ernie, was Tolsma’s co-worker and father of 3-year-old Summer West. “You can’t put a price tag on a human life.”
Any awards will come either through a mediated settlement or at a jury trial to establish who was at fault and to what extent, though virtually all air disaster lawsuits are settled before trial.
The National Transportation Safety Board reported Feb. 2 that the pilot’s improper response to a low-speed warning led the Buffalo-bound plane to go down just 5 miles from its destination. While the NTSB findings cannot be used in court, they confirm claims in the lawsuits about pilot error and whether they had been properly trained.
In court papers, the defendants have denied allegations they recklessly operated and monitored Flight 3407, improperly trained its crew and that the aircraft was not equipped to fly in icy conditions.
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