Incorrect Situational Awareness Results in International Crash Lawsuit

Case Title: American Airlines Flight 331

On December 22, 2009, American Airlines Flight 331, a Boeing 737-323 with registration number N977AN, overran the runway while landing at Norman Manley International Airport in Kingston, Jamaica. This flight was popular and was usually full, as it was on this afternoon. The flight departed Miami and was on an instrument flight rules flight plan. It was dark and raining when it landed in Jamaica under Instrument Meteorological Conditions. The plane overran the end of the runway, broke through a fence, crossed a road, and stopped on the beach. Of the 148 passengers and six crew members, 92 were injured and transported to the hospital. Fourteen of the passengers suffered serious injuries. There were no fatalities.

The captain had worked for American Airlines since 1986 and had at least 13,000 flight hours in total. He had flown this route several times and had landed at Manley Airport on the same runway during rainy weather. The first officer had worked for American Airlines since 1998. He had also landed on this same runway in the rain before, including during the prior week. The flight crew stated (and transcripts supported) that they were told of moderate rain but not about any standing water on the runway or turbulence.

The flight began normally, although they experienced two minor delays due to a problem with baggage and one with the air conditioning system. They experienced some turbulence over Cuba, but it decreased as they approached Kingston. They requested information about the weather in Kingston and were told there was rain, the runway was wet, and that another plane had landed 30 minutes before with no problems. Given this information, the pilots did not investigate further and continued to runway 12, assuming that the landing would be the same as it was in prior experience. Instead, the runway had a substantial amount of standing water, and the plane was not able to adequately brake as it came in.

Jamaica Civil Aviation Authority Findings

The Jamaica Civil Aviation Authority determined that the probable cause of the crash was that the pilots had incorrect situational awareness in terms of the condition of the runway, the best way to approach the runway under those conditions, and the possibility of using a different runway or even an alternate airport. They stated that when pilots are doing a complex and repetitive task, they may become complacent and assume their actions are sufficient without truly examining the dangers that are inherent in the situation. They also made numerous safety recommendations for future pilot training, physical improvements to the airport, and procedures for the controllers at the airport.

When the airplane came to rest on the rocky beach beyond the runway, the fuselage broke into several pieces. The passengers were evacuated, and many were taken to the hospital with injuries. Slack Davis Sanger represented a number of passengers on this flight, using our extensive experience in litigation with American Airlines to secure settlements to help these victims with their physical and emotional injuries.

Mike Slack has been practicing law for over 36 years and has litigated hundreds of lawsuits. His experience as a licensed pilot and former NASA aerospace engineer gives him unique insight into aviation accident lawsuits.

Ladd Sanger is an attorney and a licensed pilot who focuses on aviation accidents, including product liability, product litigation, and representing clients who have been injured as a result of aviation accidents. His experience as a pilot helps him understand the technical aspects of aviation crashes.

Date of Incident

December 22, 2009

Location of Incident

Kingston, Jamaica

Represented By:

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