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Lawsuits filed in Flight 3407 crash

Wrongful-death lawsuits were filed Tuesday on behalf of two local families who lost loved ones in the Feb. 12 airliner crash in Clarence Center.

And legal experts say a much bigger wave of lawsuits may begin next week, when law firms will be allowed to begin soliciting business from the families.

Lawsuits were filed in federal court by the surviving family members of Darren Tolsma and Ernie West, both of whom were employees of Northrop Grumman Amherst Systems.

"We're seeking damages for wrongful death and the conscious pain, suffering and precrash terror experienced by Darren and Ernie," said Hugh M. Russ III, attorney for the two families. "We'll also be asking for punitive damages against the defendants, in hopes that we can prevent something like this from happening again."

Russ said the lawsuits allege that pilot error, insufficient pilot training, improper use of the de-icing and automatic pilot systems, and an inadequate de-icing system were all factors in the crash that killed 50 people.

The defendants include three airlines and the manufacturer of the plane used for Continental Connection Flight 3407, which crashed in Clarence Center while on its way from Newark, N.J., to Buffalo Niagara International Airport.

The cause of the crash is still under investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board.

No specific damage amount will be specified in the lawsuits, Russ said.

A handful of lawsuits have been filed so far, but many more are expected over the next few months.

Under a federal law protecting air crash victims, lawyers are barred from contacting surviving family members for 45 days after a crash. That waiting period ends Sunday, authorities said.

Tolsma, 45, of Lancaster, is survived by his wife, a son and a daughter. West, 54, of Clarence, is survived by his wife and 2-year-old daughter.

"This is a difficult time for both families. The Tolsma family is remarkable. Robin Tolsma has spoken at her church and has been reaching out to other crash families," Russ said. "Jennifer West is having a very hard time. She has a 2-year-old asking, 'Where's Daddy?' That has been very hard for her."


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