Motley Rice has filed the first lawsuit in the United States on behalf of Brazilian citizens against Brazilian-based TAM Linhas Aéreas and four other defendants, claiming negligence, recklessness and wrongful death. Júlia de Oliveira Camargo died on July 17, 2007, when TAM Flight 3054, an Airbus A320, crashed upon landing at Sao Paulo's Congonhas airport after a flight from Porto Alegre, in what is being called Brazil's worst air disaster. The case is brought by Carlos Camargo, her son and the estate's personal representative.
The case, filed in the Circuit Court of Florida in Broward County, names the following defendants: Airbus S.A.S., the plane's manufacturer; Goodrich Corporation, maker and maintainer of the doomed aircraft's thrust reversers; plane owner, Pegasus Aviation Inc.; Airbus North America Customer Services Inc., the company who provided training and training materials to Airbus operators through their Miami Training Center, and Tam Linhas Aéreas. All defendants have business offices in South Florida.
At the time of the crash, the Airbus A320 was operating with one thrust reverser deactivated. Thrust reversers redirect jet engine exhaust to help the aircraft decelerate upon landing. Despite the inoperative thrust reverser, the landing was attempted on a short runway, made dangerously slick by a steady rainfall. The runway had recently been repaved, and there were no grooves placed in the surface to permit water runoff.
After landing, the aircraft's ground spoilers and auto brakes, two other systems that along with thrust reversers are designed to slow the aircraft on the runway, failed to operate. As a result, the aircraft never decelerated. It departed the end of the runway at over 100 miles per hour, plunged down a 30 foot embankment, crossed a busy highway, and hit a building next to a gas station. The resulting conflagration killed all 187 passengers and crew, as well as 12 on the ground, making it one of South America's worst air disasters.
"We have learned that Goodrich not only manufactured the defective thrust reverser, but signed a contract with TAM in April of this year to maintain those thrust reversers. The inoperative thrust reverser was a major factor in the crash," said Mary Schiavo, former Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Transportation and Motley Rice attorney.
The complaint alleges TAM operated an unsafe flight by failing to ensure that the aircraft was mechanically sound, failing to adequately train the flight crew in proper procedures, and failing to provide effective oversight of the flight by flight dispatchers. Additionally, Pegasus Aviation, the owner of the aircraft, is being sued for leasing the aircraft to TAM in an allegedly dangerous condition.
"We have learned that the day before this tragedy, two other aircraft attempting the same landing overran the same runway, but stopped short of plunging off the embankment," Schiavo said. "It is incomprehensible that you would dispatch an aircraft with a deactivated thrust reverser onto a short, slippery runway on a rainy night. That is a recipe for disaster."
The complaint alleges Airbus S.A.S. negligently designed the automatic flight control system and failed to warn operators of known anomalies that can prevent an aircraft from decelerating on the runway. The complaint also alleges Airbus S.A.S. failed to install an inexpensive software fix that may have allowed the pilots to avert the tragedy.
"The most tragic part of this accident is that it was apparently both entirely foreseeable and entirely preventable," said Schiavo. "Our investigation has revealed at least three similar incidents, dating to 1998, where Airbus A320 aircraft have run off a runway while attempting to land with a thrust reverser deactivated." Schiavo went on to note, "A $5,000 fix was apparently never implemented, and as a seeming result, almost 200 people lost their lives and hundreds of families are shattered."
According to the complaint, Airbus North America Customer Service Inc. allegedly failed to provide adequate training and training materials for Airbus operators, including TAM. "With modern aircraft such as the A320, it is imperative that pilots are thoroughly trained on the interaction between automated systems and manual inputs. This requires simulators that accurately reflect the configuration of the line aircraft and constant relevant training. It appears that Miami Training Center did not provide these," stated Motley Rice attorney Don Migliori.
"This tragedy reflects a total breakdown in aviation safety nets," said Schiavo. "Here, the manufacturer, the airline, the pilots, the dispatchers, the maintainers or the trainers could have stepped forward to break the chain of causation. Instead, we have 200 dead, and thousands grieving. We must demand accountability and answers so that future tragedies can be avoided."
Motley Rice LLC's aviation team consists of Former Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Transportation, aviation professor and pilot, Mary Schiavo; Portuguese and Italian speaking attorney Donald Migliori, who is currently liaison counsel in the pending September 11, 2001 aviation cases in New York; and internationally known negotiator Joe Rice. The team is supported by numerous paralegals, an aviation maintenance expert, a former flight attendant, multilingual translators and information technology specialists.
The Motley Rice aviation team has been working closely on this matter with Brazilian attorneys João Carlos Austregésilo de Athayde, Julio Cesar Colling and Ricardo Hanna Bertelli and the Argentinean Campos Law Firm.
Over the past three decades, Motley Rice attorneys have been a driving force of major litigation including critical breakthroughs in justice for asbestos and mesothelioma victims and the historic litigation against the tobacco industry which resulted in the $246 billion dollar master settlement agreement, which continues to be the largest settlement in the history of U.S. civil litigation. Motley Rice attorneys also serve as lead MDL counsel for more than 6,500 family members and survivors of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The MDL cases are designed to bankrupt terrorism and seek justice against al Qaeda's financiers.
Motley Rice LLC is currently the only plaintiffs' firm still actively managing individual aviation 9/11 cases, representing all of the remaining airline death and injury claimants. Over 2,500 people died as a result of the attacks on September 11, 2001. Of those, three were citizens of Brazil and approximately 63 others were from South America.
In addition to aviation cases, the firm's attorneys continue to advance cutting-edge litigation in various other areas of law including other transportation disasters involving trains, ships and cargo and defective vehicles; environmental and toxic tort issues such as lead paint; and securities fraud cases such as institutional investor and derivative cases. For more information on this case, contact lawyer Mary Schiavo at +1 800.868.6456 or visit www.aviationsafetycenter.com.