NEW YORK (AFP) - Relatives whose loved ones died last year when a Germanwings pilot deliberately crashed a plane in the French Alps filed a wrongful death suit on Wednesday against a training unit of the airline's parent, Deutsche Lufthansa AG, in a United States district court in Arizona.
"Andreas Lubitz, the suicidal pilot, should never have been allowed to enter" the training programme at Airline Training Center Arizona, Inc (ATCA), said Brian Alexander, an attorney who filed the suit in federal court in Phoenix, Arizona.
It was filed on behalf of 80 people whose relatives perished in the March 15, 2015 crash of a Germanwings' flight A320. Alexander's firm, Kreindler and Kreindler, was joined in the suit by attorneys in Britain, Germany and the Netherlands.
The crash took 150 lives, including that of Lubitz, a troubled pilot who struggled for years with mental health problems.
Lubitz received pilot training at ATCA, between November 2010 and March 2011. ATCA, like Germanwings, is owned by the German airline Lufthansa.
The families charged that the training unit was negligent in failing to discover pilot Lubitz's medical history before admitting him to the programme in 2010.
"The company missed several readily apparent red flags, including that Lubitz's German medical certificate had a restricting legend on its face specifically because of that mental illness history, which included severe depression and suicidal ideations," Alexander, whose firm specialises in aviation accidents, said in a press statement.
ATCA was "not just negligent, but also careless, and even reckless, in failing to apply its own well-advertised 'stringent' standards to discover the history of Lubitz's severe mental illness that should have kept Lubitz from admission to ATCA's flight school," he said.
The 144 passengers on the plane came from 18 countries, Germanwings has said. The majority were from Germany and Spain, while three were from the United States.
Investigators found after the crash that Lubitz, 27, had a history of depression and suicidal tendencies and the case has raised questions about medical checks faced by pilots as well as doctor-patient confidentiality.
Lubitz was allowed to continue flying despite having been seen by doctors dozens of times in the years preceding the disaster.
A Lufthansa spokeswoman said: "Based on our information, we see no prospects of success for this course of action." Some lawyers had previously queried whether a US lawsuit would work in this case, given it involved a European airline flying from one European destination to another.
Suing in the US offers a chance of higher payouts than in Europe, where damages for emotional suffering are limited.
The German flag carrier has said it offered at least 100,000 euros (S$152,442) in compensation to victims' families, and that in some cases the amount would be in the millions depending on a person's salary and dependents.
French investigators recommended tougher medical checks for pilots last month after uncovering new evidence of unreported concerns over Lubitz's mental state. France's air accident investigation agency BEA said Lubitz had been told by a doctor two weeks before the crash that he should be treated in a psychiatric hospital.