PHOENIX (CN) – A federal judge tossed two lawsuits this week against an Arizona flight school that trained the Germanwings pilot who deliberately flew a commercial jet into the French Alps, finding Germany is the better venue for the claims.
Andreas Lubitz, a co-pilot on Germanwings Flight 9525, flew the plane into the French Alps on March 24, 2015, after locking the pilot out of the cockpit. The crash killed all 150 people onboard.
The families of 81 passengers sued Airline Training Center Arizona, which trained Lubitz in 2010 and 2011, this past April.
The Glendale, Arizona-based flight school is owned by Lufthansa, Germanwings’ parent company. In late 2015, Germanwings merged with its sister company, Eurowings.
Australian citizen David Friday brought claims in a separate lawsuit against the school after his wife, Carol, and son, Greig, were killed in the crash.
The lawsuits claimed the school failed to properly screen Lubitz before he applied for admission, and did not monitor him for depression and other psychological issues. When Lubitz showed these symptoms, Airline Training Center Arizona did not end his training, they said.
The families claimed the flight school should have prevented Lubitz from flying after seeing his records, which contained a Class 1 medical certificate with a restriction “stating it would become invalid if he had a relapse or recurrence of depression.”
On March 27, U.S. District Judge Diane Humetewa ruled that while the families presented sufficient evidence the flight school should have known about Lubitz’s medical history and owed a duty to the families, Germany is the proper venue for their claims.
“(E)ven if ATCA did not have specific knowledge of Lubitz’s mental health history before he arrived in Phoenix and began the program, plaintiffs’ allegations support a reasonable inference that ATCA, upon inquiry into the restriction, could have, and should have, known about Lubitz’s history,” Humetewa wrote.
Humetewa found Germany would be an adequate alternative forum for the claims, though, since most of the witnesses or parties connected to the lawsuit reside in Germany, as do a number of the families.
“It appears that none of the plaintiffs or their decedents is a resident of the United States,” she wrote. “Similarly, although the witnesses affiliated with ATCA are here in Arizona, far more witnesses are likely in Germany.”
Humetewa also found the people at Germanwings who hired Lubitz, his doctors, and officials involved in issuing his medical certificate mostly live in Germany.
“Although Arizona certainly has an interest in this litigation, it is comparatively low when considering the much higher level of public interest in the lawsuit that is likely in Germany given the number of German citizens who lost their lives in the crash,” Humetewa wrote. “Regarding familiarity with the governing law, there is no question that this court is more familiar with Arizona tort law. Courts, however, often have to apply the law of a different jurisdiction and there is no reason to believe a German court would be unable to do so in this case.”
Marc Moller, an attorney for the families of the 81 passengers, was pleased with Humetewa’s ruling despite the dismissal.
“It’s really a qualified win for the plaintiffs,” he told Courthouse News. “We would have liked to be in Arizona but we are very pleased that the court validated the arguments.”
Moller said flight schools need to consider not just if a student has the skills to be a pilot, but also the temperament.
“Pilot schools can’t hide behind the argument that all we did was teach the guy to fly a small airplane. They have a high-risk responsibility,” he said. “If you look at the Germanwings situation, Lubitz showed up in Arizona with a warning on his medical certificate, and that warning should have been seen as a red flag.”
Family members who haven’t settled intend to pursue their claims in Germany, Moller said.
The dismissed lawsuits are two of five filed against the flight school in Phoenix Federal Court.
A third suit, filed by another widower, was voluntarily dismissed on March 30. The two remaining lawsuits are still pending.
A Lufthansa spokeswoman did not respond to a request for comment.