Crash of Flight 5191

Airport board calls meeting to discuss proposed litigation

The Blue Grass Airport board has called an emergency meeting for 8 a.m. today to “discuss proposed litigation” in closed session, but the exact reason for the meeting was not known yesterday.

The airport is shielded from many types of lawsuits, probably including those likely to be filed by families of the 49 victims of the Comair Flight 5191 crash, because it has sovereign immunity.

The Kentucky Court of Appeals ruled in 1985 that the Lexington airport cannot be sued for negligence because its governing board is a unit of the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government.

At issue in that case was $85,000 in damage to a private jet that landed and struck a snow bank created by airport snow-removal equipment. The court concluded that Kentucky counties and Lexington’s merged city-county government were immune from such lawsuits.

But if the families do decide to sue, they are not required to tell the airport before they file, Kentucky Deputy Attorney General Pierce Whites said yesterday.

Questions arose about notification and the filing deadline, also known as the statute of limitations, after lawyers discovered a state law that appeared to require that the airport be told within seven days of an incident if a lawsuit was likely to be filed.

Such a requirement might have helped justify the controversial ads from law firms that were published in Wednesday’s Herald-Leader in an attempt to get families to contact the firms.

After it was determined that they violated Kentucky Bar Association standards, two ads were withdrawn by the law firms and a third ad was pulled by the Herald-Leader after it could not reach the law firm that placed the ad.

Whites said the law requiring notice within seven days of an incident, known as Kentucky Revised Statutes 411.115, was intended to require those living near airports to give notice if they intended to go to court over noise or other disturbances related to the airport.

“This is an old noise abatement statute,” adopted in 1964, that does not apply in this case, Whites said.

Federal laws were passed after KRS 411.115 that probably make the law obsolete, and the crash itself clearly gave notice to the airport and all other parties that legal action might follow, he said.

“It (the law) is designed to put the airport on notice so that they will not be blindsided later by a suit they had no knowledge of and had no idea to think was coming,” Whites said. “Well, we are not facing that kind of situation here.”

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