O Estado de S. Paulo
Gol Accident may be judged only in Brazil
In New York hearing, judge heard lawyers for families and American firms involved in tragedy
In a hearing that lasted more than two hours, judge Brian Cogan, of the Federal Court of New York, yesterday afternoon heard the final oral arguments of the lawyers for the families of the victims of the Gol accident, which left 154 dead on September 29, 2006, and of the lawyers for the ExcelAir, Honeywell, Amazon, Lockheed Martin and Pantheon Software firms, to determine if the case should be judged in the United States or not.
The judge asked several questions about the Brazilian courts, the possibility of the victims filing suits against Gol and being compensated and asked that ExcelAir and the pilots write a letter promising to cooperate and to not contest the Brazilian jurisprudence. For many who watched the hearing, the judge gave the understanding that he will leave the case to the Brazilian courts. He also asked the Legacy judges (sic) to answer the Brazilian courts by video - which would be more than is asked today, by rogatory letter.
Cogan asked for new documents by the end of next week and should publish his decision in the coming weeks. During the audience, when the judge asked "why is this case in the American public interest", Steven Fineman, one of the three lawyers for the families, said the the essence of the case is in the United States: the eyewitnesses - American pilots Joseph Lepore and Jan Paul Paladino - and the American firms ExcelAir (sic), owner of the Legacy which collided with the Gol Boeing, and Honeywell, manufacturer of the transponder, and navigation software firms Lockheed Martin, Pantheon Software and Amazon.
The lawyers for Honeywell, Charles Kerr and Don Rushing, argued that the Brazilian legal system is better able to judge the case, since the accident occurred in Brazilian territory, the investigation is being conducted by the Brazilian government and the majority of the victims are Brazilian. Besides this, the lawyer for the software companies said that it will be necessary to hear the flight controllers, who are in Brazil, and the software was constructed according to specifications by the Brazilian government, which probably would not divulge this information for reasons of security and national sovereignty.
If Cogan decides that the case can be carried forward in the United States, the next step will be the opening of the trial. If he cedes to the firms' lawyers' arguments of "forum non conveniens", - which establishes that the United States is not the most convenient place -, the judge will concede jurisdiction to Brazil and will give time for the lawyers for the families to file suit against Gol or transfer the arguments against the American firms to Brazil. "The judge should not take much time to do this. Perhaps the answer will come in a month", said Lexi Hazam, one of the lawyers for the victims' families.
"The fact that he (the judge) dedicated two hours shows that he is interested in the case", said Leonardo Amarante, lawyer who represents 56 families. "The case should be judged here in the United States because only an American judge can revoke the pilots' licenses, if it is proved that they are to blame."