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Lawsuits Pending in Buffalo Plane Crash

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Buffalo, NYIt has been two years since the tragic plane crash of Continental Connection Flight 3407 near Buffalo, New York. The airplane crash, officially blamed on pilot error, killed all 49 people on board the plane and one person on the ground. Although some lawsuits filed by the families of plane crash victims have been settled, many more are currently pending.

According to CBS New York (02/10/11), 43 lawsuits concerning the Continental Connection plane crash were filed in federal court in Buffalo. Of those, 10 have settled. Those that do not wind up settling are expected to go to court in March 2012. Named as defendants in the lawsuits are Continental Airlines, Colgan Air, Pinnacle Airlines and Bombardier, Inc.

In October 2010, a federal judge ruled that families involved in litigation would be allowed to use the cockpit voice recording at trial, rather than using the written transcript. The plaintiffs argued that the written transcript was not complete, which the judge agreed with. The defendants argued that the voice recordings would invade the flight crew's privacy.

According to news reports by WVIB (02/09/11), an important issue in the lawsuits is that of punitive damages. WVIB reports that the airlines involved in litigation are trying to limit punitive damages. Punitive damages are awarded in situations where the defendant is found to have exhibited malicious or willful misconduct.

A National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigation into the crash determined that the pilot and co-pilot were involved in a personal discussion at the time of the crash, violating Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) rules regarding sterile cockpit procedures. Those rules state that any conversation in the cockpit while the aircraft is below 10,000 feet must be about the operation and function of the aircraft and not be of a personal nature.

Furthermore, the NTSB ruled that the pilot did not respond properly to activation of the stick shaker, resulting in the plane stalling and ultimately crashing.

Although the NTSB blamed pilot error for the crash, a lawsuit filed against Bombardier, maker of the plane involved in the plane crash, alleges the company was negligent and careless in the design of the plane. The lawsuit claims that more efficient warning systems could have alerted flight crew to problems with the aircraft, including problems with icing.

Meanwhile, families of Flight 3407 plane crash victims say the government and airlines have not yet enacted safety recommendations designed to prevent pilots with severe fatigue from flying. An NTSB report, cited by ABC News (02/08/11) found that in the past 20 years, more than two-dozen plane crashes involving more than 250 fatalities were linked to pilot fatigue. Pilot fatigue was cited as a contributing factor in the Buffalo plane crash—both pilots were commuters and had slept in the airport crew lounge before the flight.

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