Buffalo Families of Plane Crash Victims Get Relief

By Rheingold Giuffra Ruffo & Plotkin LLP

Families whose loved ones were passengers in the 2009 plane crash that killed 50 people near Buffalo, NY finally get some relief in court. A federal judge ruled on July 18 that they will be allowed to pursue unlimited punitive damages from the flight’s operators, which means that they will be awarded compensation for damages done in order to punish the defendant for a reckless act.

U.S. District Judge William Skretny had to decide whether to apply Virginia law in the wrongful-death lawsuits, because the flight operator Colgan Air was based in Virginia at the time of the crash, or to apply New York law, the state where Continental Connection Flight 3407 crashed. Virginia law has a $350,000 punitive damages cap, while New York has no cap.

Skretny decided to apply New York law, supporting attorneys for passenger’s families, and against Colgan and the regional carrier’s mother company, Pinnacle Airlines Corp. At the Rheingold, Giuffra, Ruffo & Plotkin LLP we actively pursue punitive damages. The purpose of punitive damages is not to compensate the a plaintiff (but certain plaintiffs will in fact receive all or some portion of the punitive damage award), but in fact to reform or deter the defendant from engaging in egregious, fraudulent or other conduct similar to that which formed the basis of the lawsuit.

The Newark to Buffalo flight crashed into a house in Clarence, NY on February 12, 2009, killing all 49 people on board and 1 man in the house. Federal safety investigators reported that pilot error caused the plane to stall and crash. While more than 40 lawsuits have been filed in Buffalo’s federal court, about a dozen have been settled. Those cases that do not settle are expected to go to trial in March 2012.

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