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U.S. District Court - Middle District of Florida

This action was prosecuted as a consolidated case of three wrongful death claims against the United States. The plaintiffs alleged that the defendant’s air traffic controllers negligently directed the decedent pilot into a hazardous thunderstorm without warning, resulting in the plane crashing and the death of all four occupants. The defendant contended that the decedent pilot was ultimately responsible for the safety of the flight and that he was comparatively negligent for knowingly entering into an area of extreme weather which was both visual to him and observable on his airborne radar.

Just before noon on October 26, ________, a Beechcraft King Air B100 aircraft crashed in severe weather just north of Benavides, Texas. The crash fatally injured the pilot and his three passengers on their return flight to their homes in Florida from a Texas hunting trip.

The plaintiffs alleged that the crash was caused by the negligence of Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) air traffic controllers working in an air traffic center located in Houston, Texas. The plaintiffs claimed that the controllers directed the pilot to penetrate a hazardous line of thunderstorms that was clearly depicted on their radar screens and that they failed to warn the pilot.

The plaintiffs argued that, although air traffic control centers are equipped with state-of-the-art air traffic radar screens overlaid with weather radar, the controllers in this case may not have seen the weather on their screens. The plaintiffs alleged that the controller failed to wear glasses as required and set his display background color preferences in such a way that heavy thunderstorms would have been difficult to see. When the decedent pilot requested what he believed to be a reasonable heading around the worst of the weather, the plaintiffs contended that the defendant’s controller, instead, issued a different route that took the pilot directly into a heavy thunderstorm cell.

The plaintiff also claimed that a second air traffic controller watching the same radar screen was fully aware of the pilot’s imminent emergency, but merely watched the tragedy unfold without questioning the companion controller. All air traffic controllers are required to disseminate complete accurate and timely weather information to pilots and to work as a team to warn pilots entering into dangerous conditions, according to the plaintiffs’ claims.

The decedents included a father and his adult son who were employed as marine construction contractors. The decedent father was survived by his wife. The decedent son was survived by his wife two sons, ages 15 and five and a daughter, age four, at the time of his death. The third decedent, the pilot, was an investor survived by his spouse and two adult daughters. The estate of one of the passengers did not bring suit.The case was settled shortly before trial for a total of $________.

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