Comair says it's not wholly responsible for the crash of Flight 5191 and says it's not fair for the Northern Kentucky company to be held solely liable when others contributed to the crash.
If Comair is found to be responsible for the Aug. 27 crash, which killed 49 people, it should share liability with Blue Grass Airport and the Federal Aviation Administration, the airline argued in court documents filed Friday and yesterday in U.S. District Court in Lexington.
Comair's response to lawsuits and its legal strategy came as no surprise to the lawyers who have sued Comair on behalf of the victims' families. In October, Comair sued the Urban County Airport Board, which oversees the airport, and the FFA, saying the agencies should share responsibility for the crash because of a series of missteps.
"The defendant, Comair, is basically denying responsibility, and they're saying if they're responsible, then others are to be held liable," said Joe Savage, a Lexington lawyer who is representing some of the families suing the airline.
Thirteen lawsuits have been filed in Kentucky courts against the bankrupt carrier.
Comair alleges that inaccurate information supplied by the airport led the pilots to take off from the shorter of two runways. The airport, which was in the middle of a repaving project, also failed to have appropriate lights and signs on the runway to direct pilots, Comair alleges in its lawsuit against the airport board and FAA.
The FAA had only one flight controller in the tower at the time of the early-morning crash, which violated its own policies. An investigation has revealed that the flight controller had his back turned when the airplane taxied to the shorter of two runways.
After the October lawsuit was filed, the airport board denied Comair's allegations that it was at fault and issued a statement saying it "has provided, provides and will continue to provide a safe environment for the arrival and departure of aircraft."
FAA officials said yesterday they could not comment on Comair's allegations because the agency has now been named in some of the lawsuits.
Lawyers for the victims' families say that Comair is trying to shift blame and financial responsibility to others.
"This is all about money," said Robert Clifford, a Chicago lawyer involved in one of the suits. "This is all about Comair's insurer trying to bring people to the table to defer some of their obligation."
Kate Marx, a Comair spokeswoman, called Comair's responses a "procedural step necessary to the legal process." Marx said she could not answer other questions about Comair's response because of the ongoing litigation.
Comair has filed responses to seven of the lawsuits and is expected to file the remaining responses within 10 days.
On Monday, attorneys for both sides are expected to meet with U.S. District Judge Karl Forester for a hearing on the status of the lawsuits. No motions will be considered at that time, lawyers said.