Bombardier faces lawsuit over Challenger jet crash

Steven Edwards CanWest News Service February 25, 2005

NEW YORK -- Bombardier Inc. is among the defendants of a lawsuit launched Thursday by a motorist injured in the crash of a corporate jet built by the Montreal-based company.

The Bombardier Challenger CL-600 swerved off the runway of New Jersey's Teterboro airport, clipped cars as it crossed a major highway and crashed into a clothing warehouse Feb. 2.

Among 20 people injured was Rohan Foster, 35, whose Toyota Camry had its roof ripped off. Beside him of the day of the crash was his workmate James Dinnall, 66, who remains in a coma.

"I was at a traffic light ... talking to my friend and he said to me, 'Look out,' and I saw a plane was coming," Foster recalled Thursday flanked by pictures of his mangled car at a news conference. "I stooped trying to figure out where it was going to go. And after that I don't remember anything because it knocked me cold."

The CL-600 was similar to the Bombardier Challenger CL-601 1A business jet that crashed in December in Colorado, killing the 14-year-old son of NBC Sports chairman Dick Ebersol and actress Susan St. James.

But investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), which is probing both crashes, said there was no immediate concern about the model, part of a fleet of 640 business jets Bombardier has delivered around the world.

"So far we are treating this as an individual accident and we have not seen any signs of trends regarding problems," said Keith Holloway, a NTSB spokesman.

Bombardier built the plane involved in the New Jersey crash in 1980, and the line has a safety record that is five times better than the international average for the same class.

"While we can't comment on litigation, we can point out that this type of legal action is pretty common where plaintiffs target all potential suspects," said Leo Knaapen, chief spokesman for Bombardier's business aircraft division. "We stand by the outstanding safety record of the Challenger family."

A police report said the aircraft dragged a metal fence that struck the car, "causing heavy damage."

Foster said he's unsure whether he'll be able to return to work as a machine polisher because of continued pain in his side. Packing also remains in his nose, which required surgery.

Both he and Dinnall live in Paterson, N.J., and would drive one another to work. Dinnall's family hasn't to date filed any legal documents.

Because the cause of the crash remains unknown, the lawsuit names all groups connected with the plane and its operation that day. Besides Bombardier, the list runs to four companies as well as the pilot and co-pilot.

"Its obligatory to name the manufacturer in this type of action because we don't know whether it's a manufacturing defect," said Edward Milstein, one of Foster's attorneys. "If we don't (name them), it could be a fatal omission later on."

Damages are unspecified but Milstein said the lawsuit, filed in the Superior Court of New Jersey, could become a multimillion-dollar claim.

Foster also launched a separate notice of intent to sue against the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates Teterboro Airport. It seeks $12.5 million US in damages.

© Times Colonist (Victoria) 2005