View Full Version : Jury awards $26 million to families of Arlington plane crash victims

9th Apr 2013, 00:59
The single-engine Cessna was flying from San Juan Island to Auburn, when its engine failed, causing the plane to crash into a wooded area.

Investigators determined that the crash was caused by a defective carburetor.

“Once we analyzed the defects in the carburetor, our investigation focused on the carburetor design, manufacturing process, and failure history,” said Robert Hedrick, an attorney with Aviation Law Group in Seattle, who represents the Becker family. “Sure enough there was a significant history of similar failures for years before this accident,” Hedrick said.

“The manufacturer had implemented a fix for the carburetor problem more than two years before the accident,” said James Anderson, also an attorney for Aviation Law Group “but we still don’t know why that fix was not implemented for thousands of aircraft already operating the field, including the accident aircraft.”

Jury awards $26 million to families of Arlington plane crash victims | KING5.com Seattle (http://www.king5.com/news/Jury-awards-26-million-to-families-of-Arlington-plane-crash-victims-202023391.html)

9th Apr 2013, 03:24
Based upon information gained from the linked article and included reader commentary, NTSB report LAX08FA246 (http://www.ntsb.gov/aviationquery/brief.aspx?ev_id=20080731X01132&key=1) appears to be the accident in question. The probable cause statement indicates CFIT. However the "TESTS AND RESEARCH" section of the report also lists some anomalies found during engine tear-down including a carburetor float found full of fuel. Perhaps this is what the ambulance chasers latched onto in order to find the necessary linkage to the deep pockets.


9th Apr 2013, 17:30
This will almost certainly get reduced on appeal if it is not settled for far less money. Still it is aggravating that a jury is allowed to completely ignore the technical evidence.
Either way it anyone who fly's GA is going to pay for this.
Reading the report it was incredible negligence by the pilot. The age old VFR into IMC , nailing a 14,000 ATP.
Same old same old

9th Apr 2013, 22:25
Carb float filled with fuel? How novel!

I can recall an AD at least 50 years ago that affected a friend's engine - whether Continental or Lycoming I don't recall. The float replacement was done on a Sunday afternoon in about 45 minutes.

But it's a fair question why the present case didn't have a field fix implemented.

10th Apr 2013, 01:28
How can the media say Investigators determined that the crash was caused by a defective carburetor.

When the NTSB investigator found the probable cause to be -
The pilot's improper decision to continue VFR flight into instrument meteorological weather conditions. Contributing to the accident were low ceilings, reduced visibility, and mountainous terrain.

10th Apr 2013, 04:15
How can the media say

The answer is... :{

Yeah, the media say what they say. Never let the facts get in the way of a good story etc... But in this instance "Investigators determined that the crash was caused by a defective carburetor" is probably not far off from what the plaintiff attorney said to the jury and possibly the media.

Of course since NTSB findings are specifically *excluded by statute from being used as evidence in civil lawsuits, the term "investigators" doesn't actually refer to the NTSB. In many civil suits, that term means people hired by the plaintiff's attorney to "investigate" the circumstances of the event connected to the cause of action and then testify as expert witnesses. So the statement isn't necessarily entirely untrue. And some evidence collected in the course of the NTSB investigation may remain available to plaintiff's "investigators" to draw their own conclusions from. That's just a glimpse of how our legal system operates in aviation accident civil suits. There's much more to justify the statement attributed to Shakespeare regarding lawyers!

*From NTSB (http://www.ntsb.gov/about/office_gc.html):

"The General Counsel ensures NTSB activities are in compliance with all applicable laws and regulations, and enforces the statutory prohibitions against the use of certain Board products in civil litigation."

Note: A number of federal statutes appear to apply in various different circumstances and I'm not a lawyer.


10th Apr 2013, 06:52
Unfortunately the British legal and cultural system is starting to learn from the US and as this case illustrates that is not a good thing. We call it the compensation culture :ugh:

10th Apr 2013, 12:49

Of course since NTSB findings are specifically *excluded by statute from being used as evidence in civil lawsuits, the term "investigators" doesn't actually refer to the NTSB. In many civil suits, that term means people hired by the plaintiff's attorney to "investigate" the circumstances of the event connected to the cause of action and then testify as expert witnesses. So the statement isn't necessarily entirely untrue. And some evidence collected in the course of the NTSB investigation may remain available to plaintiff's "investigators" to draw their own conclusions from.

Their findings are excluded, but the factual data in the accident's docket is not. In recent years those dockets have quite a bit of factual data, including NTSB photographs.

Then, in the litigation it becomes a battle of the experts, some of whom can be quite good.

10th Apr 2013, 21:58

Before I say this, we've all done it, at least at some point to build hours...I'm talking about "illegal 135 flights"....

On this occasion the pilot apparently didn't need to build hours, however, "take passengers, drop passengers, get more passengers"...Doesn't really sound like a Part 91 flight to me...

I'm sorry about the outcome, and while I somewhat understand....as I said...As a newly minted Commercial pilot working as a CFI...I can only thank my lucky stars that I didn't kill anyone...and that was in 1978...

11th Apr 2013, 05:00

Yes the public dockets for major investigations have become quite comprehensive in recent years. From what I've been able to learn, some of it is considered "work product" and some of it just factual data. Which of it can be used as evidence in civil trials is a legal matter and may be contested in certain cases and courts. It's way beyond my areas of expertise or experience to render a credible legal opinion so I leave that to the lawyers!

Still, I'll stick with my personal opinion that there's something just fundamentally wrong with a legal system that allows such twisting of facts to make money. Given the facts in the NTSB report, I'm concluding that the pilot was scud running in the hills and it ended badly. It's a shame yes, but the PIC appears to be the only party responsible for the outcome. In my view, nobody else should be made to pay, including everyone paying for aviation products and insurance of all kinds.

I read somewhere that we have the worst system in the world.... Except for most of the others!


11th Apr 2013, 07:17
A Cautionary “Tail”.

Once upon a time a young, or not so young, gentleman aeroplane enthusiast had been entrusted by the gods of aviation with the care of some elderly aeroplanes. This trust carried with it the implication that the enjoyment of these aeroplanes should be given to folk who expressed an interest. So this enthusiast would freely give flights in the DH89 Rapide to which he felt privileged to be the caretaker..

On one occasion some members of HARS had helped get the aeroplane ready for it’s 100 hourly and they flew with the aeroplane to Albion Park for the HARS open day. This was very successful and the next year two of these HAARS members also flew to the next open day. At that stage the Rapide flew in company with a Comper Swift and the opportunity was taken to get some excellent air-to –air photographs.

Everyone was elated on landing at Bankstown and as we taxied up to the hangar we were all in excellent spirits. The engines were still running and cooling whilst a member of the crew was tasked with getting out and preparing the chocks. The pilot had just shut the engines down when he received the unwelcome news that one of the HARS members , had alighted from the wing root and hurt himself. As we all got out it was evident that he was close to the tail plane and that he must have jumped from the wing root and broken his leg. We asked him what had happened but as he was in shock we assumed he could not remember. His protestations at the time were that “don’t be worried, I will not sue you”.

As expected this proved to be false and some time later court proceedings started which resulted in the judge awarding this person a total of $506,000.

After much to-ing and fro-ing the insurance company Vero, the company with which our broker had placed the insurance, decided to depart the area of aviation insurance and treated the case as a “tail” thus paying this person a swag of monies that I believe he was not entitled to. Solicitor barrister and QC engaged by the insurance company advised against settlement for any monies but the insurance company relying on their cross insurance wanted to depart aviation insurance.

Farther details of the case were that the individual concerned had
1 but little aviation experience but had been a policeman and a “financial adviser”
2 he had been introduced by a friend, a skilled HARS member, and had during the previous period been tasked with cleaning and “gophering” as his contribution to the 100 hourly. As part of this he had been instructed on how to enter and exit the Rapide safely.
3 during the court case we had to change judges as the judge who was appointed had judged him adversely in a previous case regarding financial impropriety so she had to excuse herself.
4 the major claim of negligence was that steps should have been provided and that he had fallen from the wing root rather than jumped.

Now this is the very rough outline of a case which has taken several years to progress to this stage and you must realize that the above statement is very superficial and there are lots of other features of which due to lack of time, general irritation and a wish not to waste good ink on I must decline to expound upon but if you want to know more give me a phone call or an e-mail.

But the real purpose of this article is to warn you all to the legal implications of offering “buddy flights”.

Firstly there are lots of lawyers out there who are hungry for work. This is proved by the advertising seen of the type “you deserve compensation”. They will not be put off by whether the case is right or wrong.
People will change their minds about their actions when they are perhaps advised by, for example, a greedy member of the family.
There is a group of people who believe that they are not suing an individual but suing an insurance company so that somehow makes it OK to exploit the insurance company as “they have plenty of monies”. There also seem to be those in authority who work on the premise of “what can we award to get this thing to go away”.

It is critically important to have insurance as otherwise this could have been a financial disaster

Exam question.
Discuss, We have a legal system but not a justice system!

A request
Please see at the end of this short article a prototype “blood chit” to be offered to prospective passengers. Now this has not been seen as yet by a lawyer but I would like to suggest that this a possible way to dissuade legal cases. The major difficulty would appear with the fact you cannot stop dependants starting legal action but the sentence agreeing to pay all legal costs may present a sufficient confusion to prevent a cavalier approach by litigants and legal bottom feeders. Do we have any lawyers in the association to discuss this?

The request is to ask for your input prior to submitting this for legal examination.

A last thought.
This is a big problem to the Antique Aeroplane Association and I do not think it has been really addressed as yet. The big issue is that do we allow people and their lawyers to restrict our activity due to principally their pursuit of the dollar.
Do we stop giving pleasure to others?
I do not intend to change my behavior in offering flights to people but I will be more careful in future and if they do not sign, they do not go!

Page 1
D.H.89A Dragon Rapide VH-UTV, British Klemm Eagle VH-UTI and D.H. 82 Tiger Moth VH-CCD

Blood Chit

Please be aware that these aeroplanes are not insured as commercial aeroplanes and are over 60 years old. Flying in these may be considered an extreme sport and an extreme risk experience.
The costs of insurance are so high that to offer the experience of flight in an antique aeroplane with full insurance, the costs to the passenger would be prohibitive.
If you partake of this invitation to fly you and your dependants accept all the risks involved and totally indemnify the owners, operators and maintainers of this aeroplane from any legal action. Though care is taken, this indemnity also includes any claims of negligence to any involved in this experience by yourself or others and furthermore you do not grant permission to claim damages to any other person claiming over any incident involving yourself or this aeroplane.
Also if you, or any other persons or companies take any legal action against the owners, operators or maintainers of these aeroplanes you and your estate agree to pay for all the legal costs and awards to, and of all those involved by such action. .Please also understand that due to aviation regulations costs, except for the sharing of fuel costs, cannot be charged. There is therefore no charge for this flight.
May this signature affirm that I have read and understood the above.
Signed. Witness

Reverse of page 1

Please note that this form has been made necessary by a legal case whereby someone, a member of HARS, on alighting from the aeroplane without specific instruction to do so broke his leg and successfully sued us for a very high sum of money.

Please excuse us from taking this attitude which would initially seem unduly legalistic but seen in the context of our history is explicable.