Asiana Flight 214 airplane after it crashed at the San Francisco International Airport in San Francisco. (Photo: Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP)
Two days after a federal regulatory report concluded that pilot error and a confusing auto-flight system contributed to last year’s Asiana Airlines crash, a lawyer for The Boeing Co. was in court arguing that lawsuits brought by more than 100 of the victims should be removed from state court.
Flight 214 crashed on July 6, 2013, while landing at San Francisco International Airport, killing three people and injuring about 180. In its report, released on Tuesday, the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board determined that the flight’s crew mismanaged the landing approach and failed to monitor airspeed. The report also found that the “complexities” of the auto-throttle and autopilot systems in the 777 aircraft, made by Boeing, contributed to the accident. Boeing has said it disagreed with the report’s findings.
On Thursday, Boeing’s lawyer, Eric Wolff, told a panel of judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit that 16 cases filed over the accident in Cook County, Ill., Circuit Court should be removed to federal court, where they would be transferred to multidistrict litigation in San Francisco. New York University School of Law Professor Arthur Miller, representing 172 passengers in those cases, is fighting to keep the cases in state court, which is considered friendlier for plaintiffs.
Boeing and Wolff, senior counsel at Seattle’s Perkins Coie, declined to comment about the litigation. Miller did not respond to a request for comment.
In its briefs, Boeing, the sole defendant in the cases, has argued that federal admiralty jurisdiction applied because the aircraft, which hit a seawall, was over the water when the pilots realized that their speed was too slow for landing. Boeing also claims that the federal officer statute, which requires federal jurisdiction in cases against anyone “acting under” a federal officer, applied because Boeing’s airplane had to meet FAA certifications.
The plaintiffs disputed Boeing’s claims, noting that the injuries from the crash happened on land, not the sea.
Because they were remanded to state court, the lawsuits in Illinois are not part of a multidistrict proceeding in San Francisco coordinating dozens more lawsuits against Asiana and Boeing. U.S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers, who is overseeing that proceeding, has allowed some discovery, with a hearing set for Sept. 26. Both sides are talking settlement.
“We’re also having discussions about a process for resolution of those cases ready to be resolved—perhaps those that don’t have severe injuries,” said plaintiffs attorney Frank Pitre of Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy in Burlingame, Calif.
Although they can’t use the NTSB report in their cases, plaintiffs lawyers in California and Illinois agree that its findings bolster their claims, particularly those against Boeing. Keeping Boeing in the litigation is important for the plaintiffs because most of the passengers hailed from Asia and, under a federal treaty, otherwise would be unable to sue South Korea’s Asiana in U.S. courts.
“Nobody in the litigation is suggesting that the pilots didn’t make mistakes,” said plaintiffs attorney Justin Green, a partner at New York’s Kreindler & Kreindler. “But I think there can be more than one cause of an accident and, in this case, that’s what the NTSB found.”
Contact Amanda Bronstad at email@example.com.