Discovery is set to begin in nearly 50 lawsuits over last summer’s Asiana Airlines Inc. crash after a judicial panel coordinated them for pretrial purposes before a federal judge in San Francisco.
The July 6 crash of Flight 214 while landing at San Francisco International Airport killed three people and injured about 180. The U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation on Friday ordered the cases, filed against both Asiana and The Boeing Co., which manufactured the 777 aircraft, coordinated before U.S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers.
The MDL Panel acted following a hearing on Dec. 5 in Las Vegas. Boeing, Asiana Airlines and most of the plaintiffs attorneys with cases in San Francisco supported coordination before Rogers, who is hearing a large number of the actions, while lawyers with cases in the Northern District of Illinois, home to Boeing’s Chicago headquarters, opposed the move.
On Nov. 4, Rogers stayed discovery until the MDL panel could decide whether to coordinate. But she denied a request from Asiana to limit discovery until the National Transportation Safety Board completes its investigation.
“Since plaintiffs cannot rely on the NTSB’s probable cause finding, or any hearsay portions of its report, there is no reason to delay discovery until it completes its work,” said Ronald L. M. Goldman, a partner at Baum, Hedlund, Aristei & Goldman, in a prepared statement. His firm filed nine lawsuits on Nov. 27 on behalf of 14 injured passengers. “The victims who suffered deserve our prompt investigation and preparation of their cases.”
During a Dec. 11 hearing before the NTSB, Flight 214’s pilot, Capt. Lee Kang Kuk, told investigators that he worried about making a visual landing while an automated navigation aid was out of service at San Francisco’s airport.
Following the hearing, Asiana issued a prepared statement: “This hearing was an important part of the investigation into the causes of this tragic accident. By examining and analyzing all the facts, the NTSB will undoubtedly help the aviation community learn from the incident.”
The suits, filed on behalf of injured passengers of Flight 214, claim that Asiana’s flight crew was negligent—and that Boeing was responsible for a defective warning system and automatic throttle that failed to alert pilots of the aircraft’s decreasing speed during landing. Boeing and Asiana have denied the allegations.
Meanwhile, on Monday, U.S. District Judge Harry Leinenweber of the Northern District of Illinois remanded eight cases against Boeing to Cook County, Ill., Circuit Court. Citing “difficult jurisdictional questions,” Leinenweber rejected Boeing’s argument that the cases should remain in federal court under U.S. admiralty and federal officer jurisdiction. “In this case, the tort was neither inevitable while the plane was over water nor completed when the plane was over water,” he wrote.
The ruling could make the MDL Panel’s coordination order moot, said Michael Krzak, a partner at Clifford Law Offices in Chicago, which filed most of the Illinois cases.
“Since they’re remanded, there truly should be no MDL because there’s not cases pending in multiple federal districts,” he said. His firm plans to file a notice to Rogers about Leinenweber’s ruling. Without an MDL, he said, the cases could proceed toward discovery together on liability issues but separately on damages.
Contact Amanda Bronstad at email@example.com.