Crash of Flight 5191

Plaintiffs seek suable airport board

An attorney for the families of two Comair crash victims wants the Kentucky General Assembly to pass special legislation to allow the Blue Grass Airport board to be sued for liability in the Aug. 27 crash.

As an agency of county government, the board is exempt from such lawsuits, but Cincinnati attorney Stanley Chesley said yesterday that he is talking with Kentucky legislators to see if such a bill can be passed.

Chesley declined to name the legislators. He also said he is planning to meet with Gov. Ernie Fletcher to discuss the issue.

“The king can do no wrong -- that (legal) doctrine is long gone,” Chesley told reporters after a status conference before U.S. District Judge Karl S. Forester.

He told Forester during the conference of about 50 attorneys who have filed, or plan to file, lawsuits related to the crash, and that he also expects federal agencies to be added as defendants.

So far, Forester said, eight wrongful-death lawsuits have been filed against Kentucky-based Comair -- and in some cases, its parent company, Delta Air Lines. Both are in bankruptcy reorganization.

The court plans to consolidate the cases for discovery purposes after more lawsuits are filed, Forester said, but he left open the possibility that separate trials will be held to determine liability and damages for the 47 passengers killed in the crash.

Two crew members also died and one, co-pilot James M. Polehinke, was seriously injured. He has been at University of Kentucky Hospital since the crash.

Edward Stopher, a Louisville attorney for Comair, said the airline will oppose consolidating the cases for trial because of differences in the lawsuits.

“We agree there are other entities that need to be involved,” like the airport board, so responsibility for the crash can be fairly allocated, Stopher said.

Forester said he called yesterday’s meeting with attorneys because he knew they would be in Lexington for today’s scheduled inspection of the airport and the nearby crash site.

At least 44 attorneys, 24 technical experts who may testify at trial, about a dozen family members of victims and the news media are expected to be on hand for the inspection that will begin as early as 5 a.m. and may continue all day.

Stopher said Comair will provide “at our expense” an aircraft similar to the 50-passenger jet that crashed so attorneys can see what the crew of Comair Flight 5191 saw shortly after 6 a.m. when they turned onto the wrong runway and crashed after attempting to take off.

The group is also expected to visit the airport’s control tower, which was being operated by one air-traffic controller on the morning of the crash.

Some attorneys already have inspected the wreckage of the aircraft, which was taken to Atlanta where Delta is based, for examination and storage.

Forester scheduled another status conference for 10 a.m. Nov. 20 when he hopes to have a better idea of how many separate lawsuits will be filed and what issues will be raised.

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