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Southwest Airlines Passengers Looking to Lawyer Up After Emergency Landing

[caption id="attachment_18300" align="aligncenter" width="620"] Southwest-Levitt[/caption] Less than 24 hours after a Dallas-bound Southwest Airlines jet made an emergency landing in Philadelphia Tuesday, attorney Ladd Sanger had already fielded two calls from passengers on that flight. By midafternoon Wednesday, former passengers on Southwest Flight 1380 were making inquiries with Sanger's Texas-based aviation law firm, a sign of litigation brewing over the airline's engine failure. The callers had witnessed a woman, Jennifer Riordan, almost sucked out of a shattered window of a plane traveling about 30,000 feet above the ground. Riordan died, despite efforts from other passengers to pull her back into the plane and resuscitate her. "They're looking to see what their rights are," said Sanger, managing partner of Slack Davis Sanger's Dallas office. "We suspect there are going to be claims by passengers against the airline and engine manufacturer." The attorney wouldn't say whether Slack Davis agreed to represent any of the callers, but one thing was clear: Lawyers are mulling what sort of litigation might be in the works. A class action could be in play, but there would be several hurdles. “The trouble is there has to be some kind of commonality of damages," said Cozen O’Connor New York member Christopher Kende, who focuses on international insurance, reinsurance, aviation and marine litigation. Potential claims over the Southwest Airlines flight could include wrongful death and trauma. Any plaintiffs would have to overcome the "numerosity" requirement, and show that a collective suit would be more efficient than multiple proceedings. Attorneys say it's also still too early to determine how litigation could shape up in a situation potentially involving residents of multiple states, who might be bound by varying rules in their home jurisdiction. Also still in play: breach-of-contract claims. "Anybody that flies on any airline has a contract of passage," said airline attorney Mark A. Dombroff, outside general counsel to the Aviation Emergency Response Organization and former director of the Department of Justice's aviation and admiralty section. "When you purchase a ticket on an airline, the contract is they will deliver you safely from Point A to Point B.” Attorneys agree the airline would likely move to avoid litigation over the event that has grabbed international headlines. "They will aggressively seek to resolve any claim,” Dombroff said. “Southwest is an incredibly good airline in terms of not only customer service, but in terms of operation and maintenance.” Southwest did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but posted updates to its social media accounts. "Safety is always our top priority at Southwest Airlines, and we are working diligently to support our customers and crews at this time," the company tweeted Tuesday. Federal regulations also limit the scope of the airline's public comments as the National Transportation Safety Board investigates. Instead, the NTSB provides daily public briefings to release its latest finding. In the meantime, passengers have been posting their accounts on social media, describing the event in harrowing detail. Attorneys say this could weigh against potential defendants if a case reached a jury. With no chance of assigning blame to the passengers, defendants would have to shoulder all the responsibility. Dombroff suggests Southwest's counsel could rely on the agency to help fact-check other reports emerging in the frenzy following the event. The former Dentons attorney has represented Southwest, Virgin America, Spirit Airlines, US Airways and others. "Social media has made everybody a reporter," said Dombroff, of LeClairRyan in Alexandria, Virginia. "If I was representing the airline, I would  want to make sure that the speculation machine doesn’t get out of hand. … We don’t need to speculate here. All we have to do is just be a little be patient.”