Lawsuit filed in Chicago over Nigerian plane crash
By MICHAEL TARM June 7, 2012 7:00PM
Updated: June 7, 2012 7:00PM
A man whose wife died when a Nigerian commercial airliner crashed into a crowded neighborhood in that country’s largest city filed a lawsuit in the United States on Thursday that blames the accident, at least in part, on U.S. companies that designed, manufactured and sold the ill-fated plane.
An American attorney filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Chicago on behalf of David Chukwunonso Allison, whose wife, Joy Chiedozie Allison, was on the Dana Air MD-83 that went down in the African nation Sunday afternoon. The crash killed 153 people who were on the plane and an undetermined number of people on the ground.
Among those named in the 56-page lawsuit are Chicago-based Boeing Co., which bought the McDonnell-Douglas manufacturer of the plane, and Connecticut-based engine-maker Pratt & Whitney.
Gary Robb, a Kansas City, Mo.-based aviation attorney who filed the lawsuit for David Allison, said reports of engine failure as the plane approached Lagosm point to the companies’ culpability.
Nigeria’s Aviation Minister Stella Oduah said Wednesday that the flight’s captain radioed Lagos as the aircraft approached and declared an emergency, saying both of the MD-83’s engines had failed. Minutes later, the plane crashed into several buildings.
“That is always incredibly significant information,” Robb said. “Engines do not fail unless something goes dramatically wrong.”
Without offering details, the suit claims the Pratt & Whitney “engines used a defective and unreasonably dangerous design.”
A Thursday statement from Pratt & Whitney responding to the lawsuit didn’t address any specific allegations but said “our thoughts and prayers are with the families and friends of all those involved in this incident.”
“Pratt & Whitney is cooperating fully with investigating authorities and we are unable to offer any further comment as the investigation is ongoing,” the statement said.
A spokesman for Boeing did not return several messages seeking comment Thursday.
Joy Allison, who lived in Lagos with her husband and 1-year-old daughter, worked for a Federal Express office in her home city, Robb said. The lawsuit seeks damage payments, though an amount will be determined later.
Robb conceded that pinpointing a precise cause of the alleged engine failure would take time. But he said filing the suit now would help ensure he and his own investigators had legal recourse to request the plane’s flight voice and data recorders, and other evidence.
Francis Ogboro, an executive who oversees Dana Air, defended the airline Wednesday against growing public criticism, noting that its own chief engineer died on the doomed flight.
The MD-83 had undergone strenuous checks like the others the carrier owns and that he routinely flies, he told journalists.
The chief engineer “certainly would not have allowed that aircraft to take off” if there was a problem, Ogboro said. “No airline crew would go on a suicide mission.”
Emergency officials on Wednesday stopped searching for those killed at the crash site in Iju-Ishaga, the Lagos neighborhood about five miles from Lagos’ Murtala Muhammed International Airport.
Officials still aren’t sure how many people died, and a complete death toll could take weeks. The plane smashed into two apartment buildings, a printing business and a woodshop.
Authorities have collected the flight voice and data recorders from the plane and plan to send them to the U.S. for analysis. The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board also has sent an investigator to assist Nigeria’s Accident Investigation Board.
The State Department says nine Americans were among those killed.