Chicago, December 20, 2005 – – Two passengers filed lawsuits today in the Circuit Court of Cook County, Illinois against Southwest Airlines, Boeing, and the City of Chicago, for negligence, a conscious disregard for safety and strict liability for causing the December 8, 2005 Southwest Airlines Flight 1248 to run off Runway 31C and crash-land during a snowstorm. The Boeing 737-700 plowed through a fence and onto a busy street, striking several vehicles. The plane landed on top of a car, killing a young boy and injuring his family members. Passengers suffered among other things fear, pre-impact terror, distress, and physical harm. During the following hours, they were confined in buses and the terminal.
Mariko L.A. Bennett and Stanley L. Penn were traveling together to celebrate Stanley’s birthday. Mariko suffered internal injuries and Stanley’s back was injured. They were kept on the plane with the other passengers for a very long time and felt trapped. When the paramedics arrived, they told them that they were directed to the wrong place, which contributed to the delay. They were forced to evacuate the airplane using the emergency slides and thereafter were confined in a Shuttle Bus for nearly three hours.
Ms. Bennett and Mr. Penn have hired a national aviation law firm, Baum Hedlund, to represent them in this case. Two Baum Hedlund aviation attorneys handling this case represented the largest number of passengers injured in the 2000 Southwest runway crash of its Flight 1455. Baum Hedlund has associated a Chicago based aviation law firm, Rapoport Law Offices, to prosecute these cases with them. Rapoport Law Offices has extensive experience representing air crash victims and the two firms have a long history of successful collaboration.
Ronald L. M. Goldman, also a private pilot, was a lead attorney handling the discovery deposition efforts and Clark Aristei acted as lead plaintiffs’ counsel for the Coordinated Discovery Cases in the Southwest Airlines Flight 1455 runway crash-landing in Burbank, California on March 5, 2000. That plane came in “hot and high” and careened off the end of the runway, through barriers, crossed the street, hit a car, and came to rest mere feet from gasoline pumps at a service station. The Midway crash in Chicago is frighteningly similar to the Burbank crash.
In the Burbank case, Mr. Goldman and Mr. Aristei deposed the pilots who were flying the airplane, as well as senior Southwest Airlines personnel, including the Vice President of Safety and their Chief Pilot. The Captain of Southwest Flight 1455 continued his approach into Burbank even though his approach was well outside the required glide path, as well as approach speed and landing speed. The Southwest Airlines pilots landed notwithstanding the dangers of their approach.
Attorneys at Baum Hedlund said it appears that the lessons of the March 2000 Burbank accident were not learned: the only safe course of action to follow if an approach to landing is not within the rules and standards required for a safe landing is to abort the approach and either try again or go to an alternate airport.
“In the Midway crash, the complaint alleges the pilots may have approached the landing with too much speed, an inexcusable and unsafe condition anytime, but crucially dangerous where the conditions also included a short runway with a notoriously difficult approach, a tailwind, and a snowstorm,” Ron Goldman stated, “These were aggravating ingredients for this recipe for disaster. Southwest and Boeing will have to explain the disastrous delay of about 18 seconds after touchdown before reverse thrust activated to help slow the airplane.”
“We are examining the similarities of these two accidents, some of which are already appearing,” stated Clark Aristei, “The obvious one being ‘get-there-itis’.”
David E. Rapoport, a lifetime resident of Chicago and the Rapoport firm’s lead trial attorney added: “I grew up near Midway and have watched as Southwest has grown and profited wondering not if, but when a disaster like this would happen In the last few years I’ve prosecuted two airlines in wrongful death cases involving jets that landed, failed to stop on the runway, then ran off crashing into fixed structures and resulting in devastation. This has got to stop, and until it does, we will continue to extend our best efforts to bring those responsible to justice.”
- Against Southwest Airlines: Negligence and Conscious Disregard for Safety
- Against Boeing: Strict Liability
- Against The City of Chicago: Negligence
Against Southwest Airlines:
- As a common carrier Southwest had a duty to its passengers to use the highest degree of care to protect their safety. On December 8, 2005, in violation of this duty Southwest negligently, carelessly and improperly: began an unsafe approach given the prevailing weather, visibility and runway conditions; failed to abandon the approach before it was too late; touched down too far from the threshold of runway 31C; lost control of the aircraft; and failed to stop the aircraft on the runway.
- At the time of the accident, the negligent pilots were unable to stop the aircraft because of its excessive speed upon landing, given a short, slippery runway, the point of touchdown. The company policy against use of the auto brake system, lack of proper instruction and training in its use, contributed to the crash.
- Attempting to make up for a lost time, the Southwest pilots intentionally, willfully, recklessly and wantonly flew the airplane in a dangerous manner, including, but not limited to, flying the landing approach at dangerous speeds well in excess of safe speeds for the conditions of short runway length, slippery runway conditions, tailwind, wind speed, visibility, and snow, among other things, during the approach to land and landing on runway 31C at Midway Airport.
- Failing to abort the landing at Midway Airport and execute a “go-around” or request diversion to an alternate runway or airport despite notice and knowledge that the landing was unsafe and was likely to result in a crash landing posed a serious risk to, and endangered the lives of, their crew, passengers, and others on the ground.
- Southwest pressured the pilots by scheduling only a 20-minute “turn around” in Midway before flight 1248 was scheduled to depart for Las Vegas. On December 8, 2005, Flight 1248 was already two hours late to Las Vegas.
- Failing to stop the aircraft within the perimeter of Midway Airport, such that it crashed through two fences at the perimeter of the airport and emerged into traffic on South Central Avenue and West 55th Street, public streets in Chicago.
- Boeing’s auto brake system and the reverse thrust system aboard the jet airplane were each defective in design and manufacture, and failed to safely or properly operate in the manner intended by defendants, and failed to safely or properly operate as reasonably expected by users, including the Southwest Flight 1248 pilots. Boeing represented and advertised that these systems would safely and properly operate as intended by Southwest and other operators.
Against The City of Chicago:
- The City of Chicago negligently, carelessly and improperly failed to: monitor the conditions of runway 31C; maintain runway 31C in a reasonably safe condition for air carrier operations; and failed to close runway 31C in order to clear snow, ice, etc.
As a result of the acts and conduct of defendants, and each of them, plaintiffs, and each of them have been injured in their health, strength, and activity, and have been caused physical and mental pain and suffering, including, but not limited to, physical injury, pre-impact fear of injury and emotional distress by each plaintiff.
The Firms’ Aviation Background
A national aviation law firm, Baum Hedlund, includes three pilots (including a former airline captain and current jet fighter pilot), and has represented victims and their families in almost every major airline crash in the world involving U.S. defendants since 1985. The firm has handled 55 airline disasters in the last two decades. In one of their most recent airline cases, they represented the last family to settle a wrongful death claim stemming from the Air Midwest crash of January 8, 2003, at the Charlotte-Douglas International Airport. They demanded as part of their settlement terms that those responsible for the crash hold themselves accountable and publicly apologize to the victims’ families which occurred in a ceremony by the President of Air Midwest in May of 2005.
Other recent cases handled by Baum Hedlund are the American Airlines accident in Belle Harbor, New York in 2001, and the four planes hijacked on 9-11. The firm is on the Plaintiffs’ Steering/Executive Committees for these cases, which oversees the multi-district litigation for all the consolidated cases.
Ron Goldman has been practicing law for more than 40 years and has been a private pilot for over 25. He taught for 21 years at Pepperdine School of Law as an adjunct Law Professor, where he developed and taught the course on Aviation Accident Law. Ron has handled a wide variety of sophisticated litigation at both the trial and appellate levels and is a Board Certified by the National Board of Trial Advocates as a Certified Civil Trial Advocate.
J. Clark Aristei is also a former law professor and has been practicing law for 30 years. He has handled many of the firms’ aviation and mass disasters. He was lead counsel in the Consolidated Discovery Cases arising from the Crash of Southwest Fight 1455 on March 5, 2000. He successfully fought airlines' attempts to preempt passenger injury claims in Cheng v. United Airlines, Inc., 1995 WL 42157 (N.D. Ill. 1995) reconsideration denied by Cheng v. United Airlines, Inc. 1995 WL 314575 (N.D. Ill. 1995).
Attorneys of Baum Hedlund are described in Aviation Counsel Magazine’s list of Recommended High Flyers (considered by International Air Transport Association’s (IATA) Legal Department to be one of the most elite lists of aviation law practitioners ever produced) to be “among the best aviation lawyers in the world by the aviation legal community.”
Rapoport Law Offices has successfully represented clients involved in airplane crash cases in venues all across the country. The firm includes two pilots and a former Deputy Director of the National Transportation Safety Board. One of the Rapoport firm’s pilot-attorneys currently chairs the Chicago Bar Association’s Aviation Law Committee.
David E. Rapoport, in addition to being Board Certified by the National Board of Trial Advocates as a Certified Civil Trial Advocate, serves as Illinois’ State Coordinator for the Board. He has collected a number of records of high jury verdicts and settlements in aviation cases. Mr. Rapoport has often been appointed by federal judges to serve on Plaintiff’s Steering Committees in major air crash litigation.