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First Lawsuit Filed in Fatal Engine Explosion

airplane accident

The first lawsuit against Southwest Airlines was filed last week by a passenger of Flight 1380, during which an engine exploded, killing one person. The plane was traveling from New York to Dallas when it was forced to make an emergency landing in Philadelphia due to the incident.

In her lawsuit filed in the US District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, Lilia Chavez, a dean at Merritt College in California, claims that she has suffered post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression, and other personal injuries since the April 17 incident. The lawsuit states that Chavez, who was sitting three seats behind the victim, “witnessed the horror as the force of the depressurization pulled an innocent passenger partially through the shattered window.” It goes on to say that Chavez watched other passengers pull the woman, who subsequently died, back into the plane. Jennifer Riordan, an executive of Wells Fargo and mother of two, died from blunt trauma to her head, neck, and torso.

In a comment to NPR, Chavez’s attorney stated that the incident had “crippled her will” and that she is still in shock over “this horrible, near-death experience.” The attorney went on to say that this lawsuit is important because the incident could have been prevented.

The lawsuit also claims that Southwest has “placed profits and business” over passenger safety and continued to operate the engine, “even where there was confirmation that an unsafe condition existed.” It alleges that Southwest was negligent by failing to warn passengers that the aircraft and its engine had defects. Chavez also named Safran SA, General Electric Aviation, and CFM International, the manufacturers behind the engine. At the time the article was written, none of these additionally named companies had made a statement regarding the lawsuit.

Chavez’s complaint will likely be the first of many to be filed against the Dallas-based airline company. During the flight in question, a CFM56-7B engine on one of its Boeing 737-700 jets blew apart mid-air, shattering a plane window and killing Riordan. The incident has raised serious concerns about the safety of other engines, and the National Transportation Safety Board has launched a major investigation. The current focus of this investigation is on fatigue in the fan blade and the engine cover.

In addition, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration will order engine inspections for all engines of the same model as the one which had exploded during the incident. MarketWatch reports that Southwest had obtained the plane in question in July 2000. The average age of the overall fleet is 11 years, and the engines involved in the accident have an average age of 14 years.

The Washington Post reported Southwest issuing the following statement on the day after Chavez filed her lawsuit: “Our focus remains on working with the NTSB to support their investigation. We can’t comment on any pending litigation. The safety and security of our employees and customers is our highest priority at all times.” After the incident, Southwest had issued letters of apology offered surviving passengers $5,000 and $1,000 travel vouchers.

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