Pilot negligence was a "substantial factor" in the crash of Comair Flight 5191 in Lexington in August 2006, U.S. District Senior Judge Karl Forester has ruled.
The ruling in the Eastern District of Kentucky of U.S. District Court came Thursday night in the case brought by the family of Bryan Keith Woodward, a passenger who was killed in the crash.
The next step in the case will be a jury trial to decide whether Comair committed acts of gross negligence warranting punitive damages.
Attorney David E. Rapoport, lead counsel for Woodward's estate, said Forester's ruling was not surprising because the judge told a jury about two weeks ago that Comair was liable for Woodward's death. That jury awarded Woodward's widow, Jamie Hebert, and her two daughters $7.1 million in compensatory damages in a wrongful-death lawsuit they filed against Comair.
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Paul Richter, another attorney representing Woodward's family, said the amount of punitive damages the family will seek has not been determined.
"When we get closer to the trial and we're in the trial dynamic, then we may or may not suggest an amount to the jury," he said.
An attorney for Comair could not be reached for comment.
Woodward, 39, was one of 49 people killed in the crash that occurred after the plane took off from the wrong runway at Blue Grass Airport.
Most lawsuits against Comair that were filed in connection with the crash were settled in August 2008, shortly before they were scheduled to go to trial. Lawyers for those plaintiffs have said that none of the confidential settlements included punitive damages.
Thursday's ruling is important, Rapoport said, "because it is the first judicial determination that the negligence of Comair's pilots was a substantial factor causing the crash, a ruling Comair may well have avoided forever if Mr. Woodward's family had chosen to settle like the rest of the passenger families."