Nearly two years after a passenger plane deliberately crashed into the French Alps, killing all aboard, a U.S. District Judge has scrapped a lawsuit against the Arizona flight school which trained Germanwings pilot Andreas Lubitz.
Owned and operated by Lufthansa, the flight school was described by the plaintiffs’ lawyers as the “gatekeeper” for the commercial career of Lubitz. Family members of the American victims were hoping to receive a punitive award for damages, claiming that intensive mental health screening could have prevented the tragedy from ever having taken place.
Marc Moller, an attorney for the group, said Lufthansa’s school “had an obligation to investigate [Lubitz’s] medical history and his trustworthiness.”
Afterward, Moller continued, they could “then simply said politely to this kid, ‘I’m sorry, you simply can’t be a commercial airline pilot. We can’t take a chance, we can’t put passengers at risk.’”
A similar complaint had been filed in Arizona by an Australian man whose wife and son had been aboard the Germanwings flight.
Both lawsuits contended that Lubitz was a suicide risk and had shown signs of trouble in Arizona. The plaintiffs’ attorneys claim he displayed signs of “psychological abnormalities, reactive depression and personality disorders,” but that Lufthansa hadn’t disqualified him despite the red flags he’d thrown up.
Lubitz had, in fact, suspended the academic coursework he needed to become a pilot in 2008. He was hospitalized for an extended period of time for severe depression, but obtained a medical certificate clearing him to continue his training. He resumed classes in Phoenix in November 2010 and graduated less than a half year later, in March.
Two years and six days ago, on March 24, 2015, Andreas Lubitz locked the captain of Germanwings Flight 9525 out of the cockpit, flipped off the auto-pilot, and plotted a course into the side of a mountain. The Airbus A320 rammed into sheer rock, killing each passenger and every member of the cabin crew and staff.
U.S. District Court Judge Diane Humetewa, after reviewing the case’s circumstances, chose to shift it. She said she saw the merit in the plaintiffs’ claims but didn’t believe America was the right place to pursue them. Citing the legal principle of forum non conveniens, which allows judges to “shift a case to another venue,” Humetewa ruled that the family members of the victims would be better off pursuing their cause in Germany.
The decision allowed the plaintiffs to return their case to Arizona if certain pre-conditions aren’t met in Germany. Humetewa ordered the Phoenix flight school to waive its statute of limitations rights and to abide by American “discovery rules,” provided those rules are less restrictive in Germany.