LEXINGTON, Ky._A judge ruled Thursday that a Kentucky airport cannot be sued for last summer's deadly Comair plane crash, dealing a blow to the airline's efforts to divide blame and potentially millions of dollars in damages.
Judge James Ishmael declared Blue Grass Airport could not be held legally responsible because it enjoys "sovereign immunity" as part of the merged Lexington-Fayette County government.
The Aug. 27 crash killed 49 people and Comair is the primary defendant in numerous liability lawsuits filed on behalf of the victims.
The airline countersued the airport, arguing it also is partially to blame because of poor runway signs and markings that might have contributed to the flight trying to depart from a runway that was too short.
Comair's case against the airport's control tower, which is run by the Federal Aviation Administration, is still pending.
Kentucky's constitution protects counties from being sued without a waiver from the General Assembly, and that step has not been taken in the Comair case.
On Thursday, Comair's attorney Ed Stopher tried to make the case that despite its ties to the county, Blue Grass Airport operates independently and gets virtually no government money beyond a $200,000 grant.
The airport also purchased a $150 million insurance policy, he said, arguing that was an unwise investment for an entity that truly believed it could not be sued.
The airport's attorney, Kevin Henry, countered that runways and taxiways at Blue Grass "operate like public roads for airplanes."
Comair spokeswoman Kate Marx said afterward that the airline was weighing legal options on whether to appeal.
The favorable court ruling for the airport came exactly one week after it was largely exonerated by the National Transportation Safety Board, the federal agency investigating the crash.
The NTSB placed the primary blame on Comair's pilots for missing clues they were headed down the wrong runway. The NTSB ruled the FAA bore lesser culpability for its failure to enforce earlier suggestions requiring preflight runway checks.