Two families have agreed to settle wrongful-death lawsuits arising out of the crash of Continental Airlines Connection Flight 3407, which killed 50 people. The families of John G. Roberts III and Darren Tolsma reached what I believe are the first settlements. The February 12, 2009 crash occurred outside Buffalo, New York, killing all 49 people aboard and one on the ground. Regional carrier Pinnacle Airlines Corp. operated the flight through its Colgan Air unit.
Tolsma, 45, was an engineer at Northrop Grumman Corp. on classified military projects. He and his wife, Robin, had two children. Roberts, 48, was a vice president at Deloitte Consulting India in Mumbai. The settlement terms are confidential. A trial in the other cases is set for March 2012 in federal court in Buffalo. The families claim corporate decisions caused the pilot and co-pilot to make a series of mistakes that doomed the flight from Newark, New Jersey.
The families of Tolsma and Roberts also sued Bombardier Inc., maker of the Dash 8 Q400 plane. Judge William Skretny, who is overseeing the litigation, signed an order on August 19th sealing the terms, saying “confidentiality is a fundamental component of the accord” and “financial terms of the settlement are of no value to the public.” The judge wrote on this issue:
Disclosure of the settlement agreement would not advance public understanding of the crash of Flight 3407 nor serve any other public interest sufficient to outweigh the parties’ interests in confidentiality. Failure to seal the terms would likely hinder other accords, undermining the long-recognized policy of favoring negotiated settlements.
After the Colgan crash, the National Transportation Safety Board held hearings that focused on the actions of the pilot, who had two failed flight tests, and the co-pilot, who only made $16,000 in 2008. She had received a raise 11 days before the crash to $23,400. The NTSB concluded its investigation in February by blaming the pilot for the crash, citing his incorrect response to a cockpit stall warning. He pulled back on the control column after the warning, sending the plane’s nose up, putting the aircraft into a stall that led to the crash, according to the Board’s report.
The crew’s failure to monitor airspeed, which slowed enough to trigger the stall warning, also contributed to the accident, the NTSB found. It was found further that unnecessary conversations between the pilots, and the pilot’s failure to manage the flight, also were contributing factors. Colgan’s lack of standard procedures to help pilots select and manage airspeed for airport approaches in icing conditions contributed, the NTSB found. The Board said that fatigue “likely impaired” the pilots, and Colgan didn’t “proactively address” fatigue for pilots who commute from other cities to their home airports, as both the pilot and co-pilot on the flight did.
Allan Lewis, a lawyer with Lewis & Lewis in Buffalo, represented the Roberts family. James Kreindler of Kreindler & Kreindler LLP, represented the Tolson family. Each of those lawyers did a very good job for their clients.
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