February 4, 2011
On June 1, 1999, the pilots of American Airlines Flight 1420 lost control of an MD-82 aircraft after touching down at Little Rock, Arkansas, crashing into a light stanchion and breaking apart. This occurred at night in stormy weather conditions. Flight 1420 carried 145 individuals: 139 passengers, two pilots and four flight attendants. Ten passengers and the pilot in command received fatal injuries, while many of the other passengers were seriously injured, and the aircraft was destroyed.
When asked recently whether the pilot in command of flight 1420 was "absolved" of all responsibility for the crash, David E. Rapoport, a member of the court-appointed Plaintiffs' Steering Committee in consolidated litigation arising out of the crash who recovered more than $14 million from American Airlines' insurer for a few of the passengers and their families a decade ago responded: "After all these years, this is still a matter reasonable people who are fully informed may disagree on."
On one hand, Rapoport explained: "A jury found the airport was liable and awarded the captain's family $2 million in wrongful death damages. This was based on the airport's improper placement of towering steel approach light structures in the runway overrun where they did not belong. Moreover, while the airport argued the captain was at fault in causing his own death, the jury found the captain was not at fault. So, it is reasonable to argue the captain has been absolved of all fault in relation to the crash."
On the other hand, he said: "The National Transportation Safety Board determined the probable cause of the crash was 'the flight crew's failure to discontinue the approach when severe thunderstorms and their associated hazards to flight operations had moved into the airport area and the crew's failure to ensure that the spoilers had extended after touchdown.' Additionally, the passenger injury and wrongful death cases were based on allegations of pilot error, and the airline admitted liability in all of these cases. As a result, American's insurer paid many millions of dollars in damages to the passengers and their families long before the captain's case was tried. The NTSB has not reconsidered its probable cause finding that focused completely on pilot error."
While people on both sides of the debate have facts to support their arguments, in Rapoport's opinion: "We should all be able to agree that from a safety standpoint, flight operations should not be conducted in the terminal area when thunderstorms are on the flight path, and non-frangible objects should not be placed where it is foreseeable aircraft may go."
The crash and lawsuits were initially covered widely by newspaper, radio and television reporters, both locally and nationally. However, there has been little retrospective coverage of the crash and legal aftermath in recent years.
Rapoport Law Offices, P.C., is a personal injury law firm based in Chicago, Illinois. The personal injury attorneys at Rapoport Law Offices, P.C., have achieved multimillion-dollar verdicts and settlements for individuals with lawsuits arising from medical malpractice, product liability, semitruck and motor vehicle accidents, workplace injuries and construction accidents in Illinois and Wisconsin. Rapoport Law Offices, P.C.'s premier aviation negligence lawyers represent victims of commercial and general aviation disasters nationwide.
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