A federal judge has denied Comair's request for a new trial in a case in which the family of a victim in the August 2006 crash of Flight 5191 in Lexington sued and won compensatory damages.
Comair's request came in January, shortly after a jury voted unanimously to award Jamie Hebert, widow of Flight 5191 passenger Bryan Keith Woodward, and her two daughters a total of $7.1 million. Comair had said that damage awards to Woodward's two daughters for loss of parental consortium were excessive; that a mental health expert's testimony was irrelevant and unduly prejudicial; and that the plaintiffs' legal counsel's closing arguments were inflammatory and unduly prejudicial.
In the alternative, Comair asked that the amounts awarded the two daughters, which added up to $5 million, be lowered.
Jamie Hebert, as the guardian of daughter Mattie Kay Hebert, was awarded $3 million for loss of parental consortium. Daughter Lauren Madison Hebert was awarded $2 million for loss of parental consortium. Mattie Kay was 11 and Lauren Madison was 15 when Woodward was killed in the plane crash.
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Comair wanted the court to lower the amount awarded Mattie Hebert to be no more than $600,000 and the amount awarded to Lauren Hebert to be no more than $200,000 if a new trial was denied. Comair calculated a dollar amount per year for the award in another court case as its basis for arguing that the amounts awarded the Hebert girls were excessive.
U.S. Senior Judge Karl Forester denied Comair's request on April 2, rejecting all of the airline's arguments.
"Loss of consortium is about much more than just time, and the loss does not fit into any mathematical formula," the judge said in his ruling.
Forester went on to note that the $1.35 million the jury awarded for Woodward's loss of earning power was less than half the amount sought by his family and close to a Comair expert's estimate of $1,077,072. The judge also noted that the $750,000 that the jury awarded Woodward's estate for his physical pain and mental suffering in the crash has not been challenged by Comair as excessive.
"The awards for loss of consortium are supported by credible evidence and should not be disturbed," Forester wrote.
"We and our clients are pleased with Judge Forester's opinion," said the Heberts' attorney, David Rapoport. "We believe that he got it right. We hope that there will be no appeal, but we don't know."
Rapoport said the judge determined that the results in the trial followed Kentucky standards.
"The next step appears to be a trial on punitive damages, unless a settlement is reached," he said.
Said Comair corporate communications manager Christine Wever: "We respect the court's ruling. As we have been from the beginning, we remain committed to doing what is reasonable and appropriate for the victim's family."
Woodward, who was 39, and 48 others died after the Comair jet took off from the wrong runway at Blue Grass Airport. Other lawsuits filed against Comair in connection with the crash have been settled out of court.