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14 Passengers Sue Asiana Airlines and Boeing Over SFO Crash Injuries

AirAsia plane

Aviation Lawyers Disagree with Defendants’ Ploy to Stay Discovery

San Francisco, California, December 4, 2013 – Baum Hedlund Aristei & Goldman has filed nine lawsuits on behalf of 14 passengers who sustained injuries in the Asiana Airlines Flight 214 crash on July 6, 2013 at San Francisco International Airport (SFO). Asiana Airlines, Inc. and The Boeing Company are named as defendants in the complaints, which were filed in United States District Court, Northern District of California on November 27, 2013. The case numbers are listed below.

It is expected that the cases will be consolidated in federal court in San Francisco along with other cases already filed.

According to the MDL 2497 docket, at least 30 lawsuits have been filed in federal courts on behalf of 61 passengers from the Asiana Flight 214 crash.

  • 22 lawsuits (48 plaintiffs) have been filed in the Northern District of California (San Francisco), including the ones Baum Hedlund just filed.
  • 8 lawsuits (13 plaintiffs) have been filed in the Northern District of Illinois (Chicago).

United States District Court Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers recently ruled on motions filed by Boeing and Asiana concerning discovery in the Asiana lawsuits being filed.

Asiana Flight OZ214 SFO Plane Crash Updates

Boeing and Asiana requested a stay on all court proceedings (including discovery) until the cases filed are consolidated into multidistrict litigation. Judge Rogers granted, in part, their Motion to Stay Proceedings Pending Transfer to Multidistrict Litigation, until the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation makes their decision whether or not to consolidate all of the cases in San Francisco in the United States District Court, Northern District of California.

Judge Rogers denied Asiana’s additional request to place a stay on all liability discovery until the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has completed 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,” stated Ronald L. M. Goldman, aviation trial attorney from Baum Hedlund Aristei & Goldman. “The victims who suffered deserve our prompt investigation and preparation of their cases.”

Plaintiffs in the latest lawsuits claim to have suffered physical and mental injuries when the Boeing 777-200ER aircraft, operating as Asiana Airlines Flight 214, crashed and caught fire while attempting to land at SFO. Their injuries, according to the complaints, are the result of negligence, carelessness and recklessness on the part of Asiana and Boeing, both of which breached their duty of care to the passengers aboard Asiana Flight 214.

On July 6, 2013, Asiana Flight 214 was scheduled to land at SFO’s Runway 28L after an 11-hour flight from Seoul, South Korea. There were a total of 307 people aboard the plane, including 16 flight crewmembers.

According to the NTSB, the pilots made their approach to the airport at a dangerously low altitude, carrying low airspeed, and at approximately 11:26 a.m., Asiana Flight 214 struck the seawall that projects into San Francisco Bay at the edge of Runway 28L. The landing gear and then the tail section struck the seawall and separated from the rest of the aircraft, ejecting some passengers and flight attendants. In addition, both engines, the vertical stabilizer and both horizontal stabilizers separated from the aircraft as it spun and slid approximately 2,400 feet from the initial point of impact. Passengers were violently tossed throughout the cabin, according to the complaints, hitting their heads against seat backs and armrests as luggage toppled on them from overhead bins.

The plane caught fire and was left a charred wreck. The rear of the plane separated and half of the roof was ripped open. At least 180 passengers suffered physical injuries.

Once the plane had reached a complete stop, the complaints state that passengers and flight attendants were forced to wait 90 seconds before pilots authorized an evacuation and the emergency doors were opened. Passengers had to contend with emergency chutes that opened inside the aircraft instead of outside, according to the lawsuits, which made evacuation significantly more difficult. In some cases, the plaintiffs claim that passengers were forced to extricate fellow injured passengers from their seats before the plane became engulfed in flames.

The complaints state that Asiana Airlines failed to safely maintain, operate, maneuver, handle, control, equip, manage, and/or pilot Asiana Flight 214. Furthermore, plaintiffs claim that Asiana failed to train pilots, flight crew and other personnel with the necessary skills to safely operate a passenger aircraft and conduct a safe response during an emergency situation.

The lawsuits allege that statements by the Asiana pilots in reported interviews with the NTSB after the accident raise major concerns about a shocking lack of pilot training and ability. The pilots reportedly said they thought the aircraft’s auto-throttle system, a type of cruise control for jetliners, was maintaining adequate speed, impliedly admitting that they had relied on the automated system and failed to monitor air speed as they should continuously have done every few seconds. The pilots reportedly lacked practice and ability in landing by visual flight rules and flying manually, the most basic and most important flight skills.

As for Boeing, the complaints state that the commercial jet manufacturer knew or should have known about the 777-200ER’s various defects, including inadequate auto-throttle controls, ineffective low airspeed warning systems, and seatbelts in sections of the plane that lacked shoulder harnesses, which contributed to severe injuries suffered by passengers. Plaintiffs also accuse Boeing of failing to train and monitor Asiana pilots operating 777-200ER aircraft. Boeing had previously entered into a contract with Asiana Airlines to train their pilots at the company’s 777 training facility in South Korea. Boeing knew or should have known that their training procedures were putting passengers’ lives at risk, according to the complaints.

The recklessness and inattention of the Asiana pilots combined with Boeing’s inadequately designed and manufactured aircraft turned a routine landing at SFO into a tragedy for the plaintiffs in these lawsuits. As a result of both Asiana and Boeing’s failures, the plaintiffs claim to have suffered and will continue to suffer from physical, mental and emotional injuries, as well as economic loss.

Punitive Damages

In addition to seeking damages for past and future medical care, loss of consortium, loss of future earnings, loss of personal property and general damages, plaintiffs in the lawsuits are seeking punitive damages against Asiana and Boeing to ensure that an appropriate example is made of both companies to deter similar conduct in the future. According to the allegations, Asiana Airlines negligently operated the crash aircraft, failed to provide adequate seatbelts for most parts of the passenger cabin, and failed to hire and train their pilots to safely land aircraft at all of the airline’s destinations. The pilots’ recklessness and inattention caused the plane to approach SFO too low and too slow, which led to a tragic crash that should never have happened, the complaints state.

Plaintiffs allege that Boeing, which was under contract to train Asiana pilots, failed to not only adequately train Asiana pilots, but to monitor and report to the airline concerns about Asiana pilots not being fit to operate the Boeing 777. Also alleged is that Boeing knew or should have known that the aircraft they designed, manufactured and sold to Asiana Airlines was rife with defects, including an inadequate auto-throttle control system that would result in a dangerously inadequate warning to the pilots about low airspeed. The aircraft also lacked three-point harness seatbelts throughout most of the passenger cabin, which the lawsuits claim would have prevented or mitigated the plaintiffs’ injuries.

“The flight crew’s failure to comply with rudimentary cockpit resource, flight and landing management safety protocols turned what should have been a routine landing into a fatal catastrophe,” stated Ronald L. M. Goldman, head of Baum Hedlund Aristei & Goldman’s aviation disaster litigation team. “We allege that the Asiana crash occurred due to the gross negligence and recklessness of both Asiana and Boeing, in violation of numerous international and United States airline industry standards and established flight rules.”

Concerning the inept pilots, Mr. Goldman further stated, “The public has a right to expect airline pilots skilled in the operation of their aircraft during all phases of flight, including landing, and not video game monitors in a pilot’s seat.”

The case numbers for the nine complaints filed on behalf of the 14 plaintiffs:

  • 3:13-cv-05517-MEJ
  • 4:13-cv-05520-DMR
  • 3:13-cv-05523-LB
  • 3:13-cv-05524-JSC
  • 4:13-cv-05527-DMR
  • 3:13-cv-05530-LB
  • 4:13-cv-05531-DMR
  • 3:13-cv-05533-JCS
  • 3:13-cv-05534-EDL

Background Information

In 2006 when Boeing purchased the 777-200ER that would later crash at SFO, Boeing opened a 777 training facility in South Korea near Gimpo International Airport. In addition to flight simulator training at the Boeing facilities, Asiana requires pilots to complete an Initial Operation Experience (IOE) for pilots new to a certain type of aircraft. The airline standard — 20 flights with 60 hours of flight time under the supervision of an experienced pilot — is significantly less flying time than what international standards deem appropriate.

According to the NTSB, the lead pilot at the time of the Asiana Flight 214 crash was Lee Kang-guk, who had only completed 43 hours of flight time on a Boeing 777 (a little over half of the required IOE training) and had never before landed a 777 at SFO. Seated next to him was a supervising pilot that had never before served as a supervising pilot, and with whom Lee Kang-guk had never flown.

In addition, the lawsuits allege that Asiana Airlines has an unusually high rate of aborted landings at SFO. Asiana’s number of aborted landings, or “go-arounds,” is six to eight times greater than would be expected given the airline’s total number of flights into SFO. The pilots on the Asiana flight that crashed on July 6 called for a “go-around” seconds before the Boeing 777 slammed into the seawall.

After the crash, airline industry officials reportedly went through six weeks of records and found a “considerably higher” number of aborted landings by ASIANA than would be expected, citing a source speaking on condition of anonymity because he or she was not cleared to make the information public. The South Korean airline reportedly accounts for only about 0.5 percent of SFO’s six hundred daily landings. Its percentage of go-arounds, however, is reportedly well above that. One such aborted landing reportedly happened
on July 19, 2013, just days after SFO reopened the runway where Flight 214 had crashed. The Asiana jet pulled out of its early-afternoon landing just 14 seconds from touchdown.

The Asiana Flight 214 crash occurred when the plane’s speed dipped below the minimum necessary for a safe approach to the runway. According to the complaints, the attention of both pilots became fixed on correcting the aircraft’s alignment to the center of Runway 28L in the seconds before the crash. None of the pilots noticed that the auto-throttle control system was disengaged, and the plane was approaching the runway at a dangerously low airspeed.

According to the complaints, Boeing knew or should have known about their dangerous auto-throttle control system and the inefficient low-speed warning system. Following the 2009 Turkish Airlines Flight 1951 crash of a Boeing 737 (which crashed under similar circumstances to the Asiana Fight 214), the National Transportation Safety Board encouraged the Federal Aviation Administration to require auto-throttle control systems to have an aural command of “LOW AIRSPEED” when aircraft is flying below acceptable airspeed. In recent years, Boeing has retrofitted 400 out of the almost 4,000 737’s to have a “LOW AIRSPEED” aural warning. Airbus SAS, Boeing’s chief competitor, has installed a “LOW AIRSPEED” aural warning on all of their A320 aircraft since 1995. Yet Boeing has installed no such system in its 777 aircraft.

The media has widely reported that when Asiana Flight 214 slammed into the seawall short of Runway 28L, passengers were thrown throughout the cabin, suffering significant injuries. According to the complaints, the seatbelts worn by most passengers aboard the aircraft were lap-only seatbelts that did nothing to stop passengers from hitting their heads and upper bodies against the seats in front of them. Boeing and Asiana both failed to adopt three-point harnesses in passenger planes, which plaintiffs claim would have prevented or mitigated many of the injuries suffered by passengers aboard Asiana Flight 214.

The plaintiffs claim that the pilots failed to order an evacuation within 90 seconds of the plane coming to a complete stop; instead, the pilots communicated with air traffic controllers at SFO, and passengers were ordered to stay in their seats amidst the wreckage. The evacuation was ordered by the pilots 90 seconds after the plane stopped, the complaints allege, only after a flight attendant informed the pilots of the smoke and fire outside the aircraft. To complicate matters, two emergency chutes opened inside the aircraft instead of outside, the complaints allege, which blocked passengers and crew from safely exiting the plane.

Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations state that all planes must be manufactured to allow for a complete evacuation within 90 seconds of an emergency stop. All of the failures on the part of the defendants constituted willful and wanton disregard for the rights and safety of all passengers aboard Asiana Flight 214, the complaints state, needlessly causing injuries, damages and death to innocent passengers.

About Baum Hedlund Aristei & Goldman

The national law firm of Baum Hedlund Aristei & Goldman represents 14 passengers that sustained injuries in the Asiana Flight 214 crash. Baum Hedlund’s aviation attorneys have handled the cases of over 600 passengers and crew in plane crashes around the globe, including 60 major airline disasters. The firm is listed in Martindale Hubbell’s Bar Register of Preeminent Lawyers, The Best Lawyers in America®*, 2013 Top Ranked Law FirmsTM, and U.S. News & World Report Best Lawyers® 2014 Best Law Firms.

*Best Lawyers and The Best Lawyers in America are registered trademarks of Woodward/White, Inc., of Aiken, SC.



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