Lawsuit against Southwest Airlines
Carol: A survivor passenger of a fatal engine explosion on the Southwest Airlines Flight 1380 is now suing the airline and the makers of the engine. The victim says she’s suffering from severe post-traumatic stress from the incident and has personal injuries to her body.
As you know, Jennifer Riordan was killed when the jet’s engine exploded 20 minutes into the flight. She died at a hospital in Philadelphia after the plane made an emergency landing. Southwest declined to comment on her death, but did say in a statement, “Our focus remains on working with the NTSB to support their investigation.” President Trump is set to meet the crew of Flight 1380 tomorrow afternoon.
But let’s talk about that suit. Legal analyst and criminal defense attorney, Page Pate, joining us now. Hi, Page.
Page: Hey, Carol.
Carol: So this passenger was sitting three seats behind Miss Riordan. She saw the whole thing. I don’t know how serious her injuries were, but in the lawsuit, it said she had minor injuries to her body and she’s filing suit. Does this surprise you?
Page: It does a little bit, Carol. In many states, someone who witnesses a tragic incident like this cannot file a lawsuit unless they themselves have experienced some sort of serious physical injury. Pennsylvania’s a little bit different. Pennsylvania does allow someone who’s witnessed a traumatic event to file a lawsuit because it affected them in an emotional way, and perhaps, in a minor physical way. But it sounds like most of her claims relate to the post-traumatic stress disorder and other, sort of, complications she’s having from witnessing the incident, even though she wasn’t directly injured in a serious way.
Carol: So Southwest has given $5,000 to each passenger and they also gave them a thousand-dollar travel voucher. So Southwest appears to have tried to make amends. Would that be factored into this suit?
Page: Not usually. I mean, some airlines, some corporations will try to head off a lawsuit by issuing a small payment and trying to get the person, who was either on the flight or injured, to sign a release or to give up their claims. That didn’t happen here. What Southwest was doing, I think, was just an attempt to exercise some good will, or at least be seen as trying to address the problem before the inevitable lawsuits are filed. And I do not think this is going to be the last lawsuit, by any stretch of the imagination. I think Miss Riordan’s family clearly will have the better claim going forward, but other passengers may also decide to sue.
Carol: But because you have to look at the engines, right? Because the NTSB said that Southwest should have more deeply inspected their engines. And that inspection is going on right now.
Page: That’s right, Carol. The lawsuit raises two basic claims. One is, Southwest was negligent. They didn’t do what they were supposed to do to check the safety of these engines, especially after they had a similar incident just a couple of years ago. So the plaintiff here is saying, “Look, Southwest, you knew there was a problem here. You didn’t do what you were supposed to do to check it, and you didn’t warn anybody.”
The other claim relates to the engine itself. It’s a product liability-type claim. Because this engine was defective, Southwest used it, the manufacturers made it, all of those people are liable because it caused injury.
Carol: All right. We’ll continue to follow this. Page Pate, many thanks.
Tom is a trial and appellate lawyer focusing on criminal defense and civil trials. Tom is the author of our firm’s “The Federal Docket” and a contributor to Mercer Law Review’s Annual Survey in the areas of federal law. Tom was named a “Top 40 Under 40” lawyer by The National Trial Lawyers, and is a recognized expert in federal sentencing law. He graduated with honors from the University of Georgia Law School where he served as a research assistant to the faculty in the areas of constitutional law and civil rights litigation. Read Tom’s reviews on AVVO. Follow Tom on Linkedin.