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12 families settle suits in Clarence plane crash; Widow complains of rough questions

Twelve families have reached settlements in lawsuits related to the Clarence Center airliner crash that killed 50 people Feb. 12, 2009.

The settlements were reported Wednesday during a federal court meeting between U.S. District Judge William M. Skretny and lawyers for dozens of other victim families who are still pursuing lawsuits.

Those who have settled include 11 families who lost loved ones in the crash and the family of a Clarence Center woman who was injured when the airliner came down in her neighborhood.

"Twelve settlements have been reached, and the other cases are moving forward," said Hugh M. Russ III, a Buffalo attorney who represents some of the victim families.

Skretny said he still plans to begin a wrongful-death trial next March. In preparation for that, attorneys on both sides are examining hundreds of thousands of documents related to the crash of a Continental Connection flight operated by Colgan Air.

As part of the pretrial preparation, attorneys for the airlines and other defendants have been taking depositions from some family members.

"I was deposed for 10 hours. I felt like I was on trial," said Jennifer West of Clarence, who lost her husband, Ernest, in the crash. "They asked me all kinds of questions about my background. They even asked me why I have tattoos."

West said the deposition left her depressed for three days and she needed to meet with her grief counselor.

"I kept wanting them to ask questions that would allow me to tell them what a great person Ernie was. But it wasn't until the end, when my attorney asked some questions, that I finally had that chance."

West, 41, who has a 4-year-old daughter, said she understands why some families have settled their lawsuits.

"They don't want to go through depositions and all the other pretrial stuff. I can understand that," she said. "No way I am going to settle. I want to see this through until the end for Ernie and the other people who died."

Attorneys will meet with Skretny again July 13. Lawsuits filed by about 30 families remain pending.

e-mail: dherbeck@buffnews.com

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