Court: Plane Crash Cleanup is County’s Expense


A western New York county has lost its bid to recover the nearly $800,000 it spent in the aftermath of the crash of Continental Connection Flight 3407, which killed 50 people when it slammed in a home outside Buffalo in 2009.

A federal appeals court last week upheld a ruling clearing flight operator Colgan Air Inc.; its parent company, Pinnacle Airlines Corp;, and Continental Airlines Inc. of responsibility for the cost of the emergency response and cleanup. The ruling cited a provision of New York law barring recovery of public money spent doing government work.

“Absent an exception, the free public services doctrine plainly bars the county’s claims to recover public expenditures,” the March 4 ruling by the U.S. Second Court of Appeals said.

The ruling affirmed U.S. District Judge William Skretny’s March 2012 decision dismissing Erie County’s complaint.

Flight 3407 crashed into a house in the suburb of Clarence on approach to Buffalo Niagara International Airport on Feb. 12, 2009. All 49 people on board the two-engine turboprop and a man in the house were killed.

Federal investigators attributed the crash to pilot error, finding that the captain, possibly because of insufficient training, took the wrong corrective action when the plane lost speed and stalled during the Newark, N.J.-to-Buffalo flight.

The county “sustained unnecessary and unprecedented property and financial damage,” the complaint said, “as a direct and proximate result of defendants’ wanton, reckless, negligent and willful conduct.”

The airlines countered that past court rulings made clear that costs incurred by government entities in providing taxpayers with things like fire protection are to be borne by the public as a whole, “not assessed against the entity whose alleged negligence or fault creates the need for the services.”

Pinnacle has been reorganizing under bankruptcy protection since last year.