Crash of Flight 5191

2 victims’ families file first lawsuits

Two lawsuits were filed yesterday by families of Comair Flight 5191 victims, the first of what attorneys say will be many against the airline and government agencies in Sunday’s crash that killed 49 people at Blue Grass Airport.

The family of Flight 5191 victim Rebecca Adams filed the first lawsuit yesterday morning in Fayette Circuit Court in Lexington. Another representing the family of JoAnn Wright was filed yesterday afternoon in U.S. District Court in Covington.

Joshua Adams, Rebecca Adams’ son, said at a news conference that the family sued to find out what led to Sunday’s crash that killed his 47-year-old mother, who lived in Burgin.

“We’re here today because we want answers,” Joshua Adams read from a statement. Rebecca Adams’ two other grown children, Christopher and Lauren, also attended the news conference in Lexington but did not speak.

“My mother placed her life in the hands of Comair” and died “needlessly,” Joshua Adams said. His mother, who was divorced, helped with the setup of 911 dispatch systems and was traveling to California on business, he said.

The lawsuit names only entities associated with Comair and alleges that negligence by the company’s pilots contributed to the crash. The first hearing in the lawsuit will be 11:30 a.m. Tuesday in Fayette Circuit Court. Attorneys will attempt to include the family “in the investigative loop,” they said. The family is represented by the Clifford Law Offices of Chicago and the law offices of Wombles & Wadlington in Lexington.

Robert A. Clifford, who has represented several clients in high-profile air litigation cases around the country including NBC Sports chairman Dick Ebersol, said other defendants could be added to the suit. He said it is important to sue now because it allows families access to investigative information they would otherwise not have.

“We want those facts saved,” he said. Making reference to the May accident that killed a pregnant woman when a concrete slab fell from a downtown parking garage, he said, “I don’t want the concrete to be missing.”

Adams confirmed his family has accepted $25,000 from Comair as have some other families. Accepting the payment does not forfeit any rights to sue for future damages, Clifford said.

The other lawsuit was filed by Stan Chesley on behalf of Wright’s mother and son. Wright, 56, of Cincinnati, was on her way to Miami to board a cruise. The suit alleges that negligence by Comair contributed to Wright’s “severe emotional distress and fear” before her death.

The suit notes that one air traffic controller -- instead of the required two -- was on duty at the time of the crash and that the controller had just two hours of sleep before his shift began. A motion for a preliminary injunction was also filed to preserve records and evidence in Comair’s possession.

“There’s an awful lot yet to be found out and to be looked at. We have the intention of pulling together all information we can because I think the public has the right to know how it happened and why it happened,” Chesley said.

Neither lawsuit requests a specific dollar figure in damages.

Both attorneys indicated separately that other families have contacted them about possible litigation. However, both declined to identify those potential clients.

Kate Marx, a Comair spokeswoman, declined to comment on the litigation.

“Our focus remains on the needs of the families and cooperating in the investigative process,” Marx said.

Comair filed for bankruptcy nearly a year ago.

The Lexington-Fayette Urban County Airport Board met for about 21/2 hours in an emergency closed meeting yesterday morning to discuss possible litigation from the crash.

A drawing of the airport’s runways, including the shorter Runway 26 that the airplane’s pilots mistakenly used, was taken into the meeting.

Airport attorney W. Thomas Halbleib Jr. of the law firm Stites & Harbison would not say whether any other issues were discussed at the meeting, but said board members did discuss “one letter suggestive of filing a claim against the airport.”

Halbleib would not say who sent the letter or the number of crash victims it represented. Both Clifford and Chesley said they did not send the letter, but Clifford’s office later in the day sent its own letters of intent to sue to the airport, a spokeswoman said.

The airport is shielded from many types of lawsuits 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.

Yesterday, attorneys Clifford and Chesley said they were considering suing Delta and the FAA as well as the airport.

Airport Executive Director Michael Gobb speculated that yesterday’s session was the first of many such closed meetings the board will have.

“Now we’re at the stage where the board needs to be involved,” Gobb said.

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