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Lawsuit filed against Delta by students after fuel dump over LA area

The Federal Aviation Administration says in a statement that Delta Air Lines Flight 89 declared an emergency after departing Los Angeles International Airport, returned to the airport and landed without incident. (Photo: KABC-TV/Ivan and Sujey Hernandez)
The Federal Aviation Administration says in a statement that Delta Air Lines Flight 89 declared an emergency after departing Los Angeles International Airport, returned to the airport and landed without incident. (Photo: KABC-TV/Ivan and Sujey Hernandez)

Attorneys for three high school students in the Los Angeles area have filed a lawsuit against Delta Air Lines after one of the carrier's planes dumped fuel over schools and residents.

In the Jan. 14 incident, Delta Flight 89 from Los Angeles to Shanghai had an engine issue shortly after takeoff that required a quick return to Los Angeles International Airport. The plane released fuel to reach a safe landing weight, exposing children in school and adults on the ground to the fuel vapor before the plane landed safely back at LAX. The Federal Aviation Administration is investigating the incident.

The lawsuit filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court alleges Atlanta-based Delta was negligent in communicating with air traffic control, employee training and allowing the plane to fly if it was unsafe to do so or had mechanical issues.

It alleges that the fuel penetrated the students’ skin, mouths and noses, and that it “caused them to feel itchy, sick, dizzy, and nauseous and otherwise suffered ill health effects from the exposure,” along with emotional distress from knowing they had ingested toxins.

The three students at Pioneer High School, about 19 miles east of LAX, are represented by McNicholas & McNicholas LLP and Redefine Law Firm, trial firms based in Los Angeles.

The legal challenge follows a lawsuit filed last month by four elementary school teachers who allege they "were coated with jet fuel dumped from Flight 89."

Delta declined to comment on the litigation, but has issued a statement saying it has “been focused on listening to residents and working closely with local leaders to understand how we can best support those who have been affected.”

Delta representatives attended two town halls in the Los Angeles area, opened a phone line for residents with concerns about property damage and health effects, and set up health screenings last month for those concerned about exposure to jet fuel.

The lawsuit filed on behalf of the three students seeks damages for medical expenses, emotional distress and pain and suffering and other damages, as well as attorneys’ fees.

The attorneys representing the students allege that if pilots had notified air traffic control that they needed to dump fuel, they would have been directed to an altitude or area where they could release fuel “without endangering the population.”

“Delta and its flight crew for Flight 89 had a duty to notify air traffic control of any need or intent to dump jet fuel during a flight, and were aware of or should have been aware that the aircraft was too low to safely dump fuel,” said attorney Matthew McNicholas in a written statement. “This incident brings into question whether this negligence extends into Delta’s policies and protocols.”

The attorneys for the students allege the decision to dump fuel was made with “no regard for the health and welfare of the populated areas below the aircraft.”