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Judge rules in Colgan crash damages pursuit

July 19, 2011, Buffalo, NY – Families suing over the 2009 plane crash of a Continental Connection flight into a house near Buffalo, which killed 50 people, will be allowed to pursue unlimited punitive damages from the flight's operators, a federal judge ruled Monday.


July 19, 2011
By Carolyn Thompson | The Associated Press

July 19, 2011, Buffalo, NY – Families suing over the 2009 plane crash of a
Continental Connection flight into a house near Buffalo, which
killed 50 people, will be allowed to pursue unlimited punitive
damages from the flight's operators, a federal judge ruled Monday.

U.S. District Judge William Skretny had to decide whether
Virginia law _ which caps punitive damages at $350,000 _ should
apply in the wrongful-death lawsuits because flight operator Colgan
Air was based in Virginia at the time of the crash, or whether New
York law should apply, since that's where Continental Connection
Flight 3407 crashed. New York has no cap.

Skretny decided for New York law, siding with attorneys for
passengers' families and against Colgan and the regional carrier's
parent company, Pinnacle Airlines Corp.

"Plaintiffs maintain that punitive damages are in order because
defendants recklessly operated Flight 3407 in New York with
deficient, unfit pilots who lacked the fundamental knowledge and
ability to safely operate the Q400 aircraft," Skretny wrote. "New
York therefore has a compelling interest in seeing its punitive
damages law applied."

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He also noted that Colgan, which is now based in Tennessee,
interviewed and tested pilot Marvin Renslow in New York and
maintains bases at other New York airports.

The decision "sends the correct message to not only Colgan but
other airlines that they cannot assume they're going to be protected
by the limits of liability of the state where they are
headquartered," said attorney Justin Green of Kreindler & Kreindler
LLP, which represents some of the families.

The judge, however, ruled in favour of Colgan and Pinnacle on
another issue, finding that federal standards, rather than state
law, should prevail in measuring aviation safety and aircraft
operations. The airlines successfully argued that the Federal
Aviation Act passed by Congress was meant to set the standards for
airline safety and should pre-empt any individual state law.

The Newark-to-Buffalo flight crashed into a house in the suburb
of Clarence upon approach to Buffalo Niagara International Airport
on Feb. 12, 2009. All 49 people on board and a man in the house were
killed. Federal safety investigators said pilot error led the plane
to stall and crash.

More than 40 lawsuits have been filed in federal court in
Buffalo, about a dozen of which have been settled. Cases that don't
settle are expected to go to trial in March 2012.

The turboprop plane was manufactured by Montreal-based Bombardier
Inc.