2004-11-05 / Front Page

NTSB Report To Have Little Impact On AA 587 Settlement Talks

By Howard Schwach

The city placed this small memorial to those lost on AA 587 at the corner of Beach 131 Street and Newport Avenue for the second anniversary of the crash in 2003.
The city placed this small memorial to those lost on AA 587 at the corner of Beach 131 Street and Newport Avenue for the second anniversary of the crash in 2003. At a hearing in Washington, D.C. last week, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) found that the crash of American Airlines Flight 587 into Belle Harbor streets on November 12, 2001 was caused by First Officer Sten Molin, who “aggressively and unnecessarily” used the rudder controls of the Airbus A300 to rip the tail from the plane.

Contributing factors, according to the NTSB report, were “characteristics of the airplane’s rudder design” as well as “the airline’s pilot training program.”

What does that report mean to the approximately thirty percent of family members who have not yet accepted settlement agreements through a shared Airbus Industries – American Airlines payment agreement?

Not much, according to Blanca Rodriquez, an attorney with Kreindler and Kreindler, the Manhattan law firm that heads the attorney’s committee that represents the family members.

“The [NTSB] report will not have a tremendous effect on the lawsuit that is presently in federal court,” Rodriquez told The Wave in an exclusive interview. “Our belief is that both parties are responsible for the crash.”

Rodriquez says that the NTSB report is not admissible in court, but that it should provide information that will make it a little safer for the flying public.

Rodriquez says, however, that the court will take note of the report’s findings.

“There is little doubt that the pilot’s use of the rudder was the cause of the crash,” she said. “What there is doubt about is who is at fault for his actions.”

“There was a failure to warn on the part of Airbus,” she said. “The NTSB did not focus on that, but it did find that the sensitivity of the rudder system was an issue. We are not sure that the pilot knew about that. There is responsibility on both sides.”

The next hearing on the case before Judge Robert Sweet will take place on November 10 in Brooklyn Federal Court.

Rodriquez expects that the plaintiffs will ask that the discovery process, put on hold by Judge Sweet to allow for settlement conferences more than a year ago, be reopened.

“This would seem to be the logical time to reopen discovery for those who have turned down settlement agreements from Airbus and American [Airlines],” she says. “A fair number of the family members have reached an impasse in their discussions with the two companies and perhaps it is time for litigation to find responsibility for the crash.”

She points out, however, that there is a danger in reopening the discovery process for the 30 percent of families that have not reached a settlement agreement.

“Once we reopen discovery, the sharing agreement is out,” she says. “All the agreements between Airbus and American are off the table.”

“Things are going to get complicated,” she said. “Opening discovery might not make settlement easier.”

Judge Sweet is expected to make a decision on reopening the discovery process shortly after the November 10 hearing.

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