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ARTICLE ID 29530

$________ - AVIATION ACCIDENT - WRONGFUL DEATH OF CO-PILOT EMPLOYED BY DEFENDANT AIRLINE - WORKERS' COMPENSATION ACT CIRCUMVENTED BY CLAIM OF GROSS NEGLIGENCE AGAINST PRINCIPALS AND OFFICERS OF EMPLOYER AIRLINE.

Dade County, Florida

The subject lawsuit arose out of an aviation accident involving the crash of a Lockheed Hercules L-________ at Kelley Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas on October 4, ________, which resulted in the death of the 30-year-old decedent co-pilot, who was survived by his 29-year-old wife and two children, ages seven and four. Suit was filed against certain officers of Southern Air Transport, the airline which employed the decedent co-pilot, on a gross negligence theory of liability. The plaintiffs additionally sued Lockheed, the manufacturer of the plane, as well as the owner/lessor of the plane, Transamerica under theories of products liability and negligence.

The evidence indicated that the decedent’s employer, Southern Air, was the operator of the plane, having recently leased 12 Hercules aircraft from Transamerica. The NTSB investigation, in which the defendants participated, revealed that a non-approved control block probably became wedged in the controls. The decedent was a new co-pilot for the defendant operator and, according to the plaintiffs, was never trained in the use or even the existence of the control block. The plaintiffs maintained that the control block went undetected during the cockpit checklist procedures. According to the cockpit voice recorder, the captain detected control problems immediately after take-off and within just a few seconds, discovered that the control block had become wedged inside the controls. When the wedged block was finally removed, it was too late, as the plane had been forced into such a steep climb, the crew was unable to recover.

The plaintiffs contended that the individual defendant principals and officers of Southern Air were grossly negligent in breaching the duties and obligations imposed upon them both by Federal Regulations and the corporation manual. The plaintiff’s evidence indicated that applicable Federal Statutes hold officers and principals of an airline to the highest standard of care with regard to the discharging of their duties due to the inherently dangerous nature of aviation activity. The plaintiffs elicited admissions form the defendants themselves which revealed the critical nature of their responsibilities by their concession that if their duties and obligations as established by Federal Regulations are not carried out, or are undertaken in an improper manner, then planes will become unsafe and people will die as a consequence.

The evidence adduced at trial indicated that Southern Air was initially comprised of only three or four airplanes and that the subject accident occurred during a period of expansion in which twelve aircraft were added simultaneously. The plaintiff contended that the defendant president of Southern Air was close to the operation of the airline and that he permitted the utilization of the control block in its system for two years prior to the subject accident without obtaining approval from the FAA and without adding the item onto the pre-take-off checklist.

The plaintiff’s experts explained that the purpose of the control block, a device which is six to eight inches long, is to lock the flaps in an upward position while the plane is on the ground to facilitate loading of the plane from the rear without damaging the flaps. The device is to be removed prior to take-off and stored away in a safe place. The plaintiff’s experts asserted that pilots must be trained in the use and storage of the device.

The plaintiffs maintained that Southern Air failed to provide the decedent co-pilot, who had only been in the employ of the defendant company for a few weeks prior to the accident, with any training whatsoever regarding the use or even the existence of the device, and that the individual defendant principals were responsible for his inadequate training. The plaintiff presented the results of the NTSB post-accident investigation which concluded that the decedent co-pilot never saw the control block and had never been trained in the use of the device, thereby permitting the loose object to go unnoticed and somehow find its way into the controls, jamming the control stick so that it could not be pushed forward to level out the plane. The plaintiff presented the individual in charge of training the decedent after he was hired by Southern Air, who admitted that the decedent’s training did not include specific instruction regarding the use or existence of the control block device.

The defendants countered with testimony from another of its co- pilots who attended the same training classes as the decedent and who stated that the decedent did receive instruction with regard to the use of the control block. The defendants maintained that the decedent’s own negligence in failing to properly remove and store the control block caused the subject accident. The defendant principals claimed that they were not involved in matters such as the training of officers and the addition and utilization of such devices in its system, and claimed that, in fact, they were unaware that the device was in its system until the subject crash.

The jury exonerated the defendant manufacturer and defendant owner of the aircraft and found for the plaintiff against the individual defendant principals of Southern Air and returned a verdict of $________ compensatory damages and $________ punitive damages for a total sum of $________. Plaintiff’s cockpit voice recorder expert: Bob Ruddich from Maryland.

Plaintiff’s expert pilot: David Ek from Arlington, Tx.

Plaintiff’s expert aeronautical engineer: James Hayes from Denton, Tx. Plaintiff’s aircraft accident reconstruction expert: John McWhorter from Miami, Fla. Plaintiff’s expert economist: Thomas Natiello from Miami. Georgiann DeCenzo, as Personal Representative of the Estate of Phillip DeCenzo vs. William G.

Langton, et al. Case no. 87-________; Judge Silver. Attorneys for plaintiff: Roger Blackburn, Howard Dillman, Marc Sarnoff and Neil Bayer of Leesfield & Blackburn in Miami; Attorneys for individual defendant principals: Charles Rice of Miami.

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