Family members of one of 49 people killed in a 2006 Kentucky plane crash have been awarded a $7.1 million civil verdict, but a separate jury will decide whether Comair must also pay millions more in the only passenger lawsuit to reach trial.
David Rapoport, an attorney who represented Bryan Keith Woodward’s wife and daughters, said the family was satisfied with the compensatory damages handed down this week in U.S. District Court in Lexington, Ky. However, Rapoport said a larger trial looms next year over punitive damages.
That case will determine whether the airline committed “gross negligence” in the crash of Comair 5191, which federal investigators have blamed largely on errors by the two pilots who steered the plane to the wrong runway at Lexington’s Blue Grass Airport. The general aviation strip was too short for a commercial plane to make a proper takeoff.
“It’s fair to say our clients feel they have won the battle but not the war,” Rapoport said.
Comair spokeswoman Christine Wever declined to comment on the trial over punitive damages, expected no earlier than spring, but issued a statement concerning this week’s civil verdict.
“Since the day of the accident, Comair has been committed to treating the passenger families fairly and respectfully,” Wever wrote. “We have honored that commitment. We appreciate the thoughtful consideration of the jury, and we hope this trial is one more step in the family’s healing process.”
Last year, jury selection in a massive case against Comair was called off when financial settlements were reached between Comair and all but two families of the 47 passengers who died. One of those settled a few weeks later, leaving only the Woodward case, filed by his wife, Jamie Hebert, and two daughters, Lauren Madison Hebert, 19, and Mattie-Kay Hebert, 15.
Woodward and his family lived near Lafayette, La., where he was an electrician who often worked on offshore oil rigs. He was on his way to Atlanta for a connecting flight when the plane crashed.
The Heberts, who run a convenience store, were always less interested in money than the principle of forcing Comair into taking the blame for the crash, Rapoport said.
“My clients all feel they don’t want private justice,” he said. “They want public justice. To this day, Comair has not acknowledged fault, in our opinion.”
Rapoport said he isn’t asking for a specific amount of punitive damages as juries typically decide that on their own. However, he said some juries have awarded punitive damages multiple times what they awarded in compensatory damages.
The amounts of all settlements reached with the other passenger families were kept confidential. There are still legal matters pending with the families of the two pilots, Jeffrey Clay, who died in the crash, and James Polehinke, the lone survivor.
Comair is a subsidiary of Delta Air Lines, Inc.
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