Aviation Accidents

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Aviation Accidents

Over the past two and a half decades, Jeannete Lewis has handled the development and litigation of a multitude of general aviation and military air crash cases on behalf of victims and families whose loved ones were injured or killed in helicopter and airplane accidents, both domestically and abroad.

While air travel remains one of the safest methods of transportation, when things do go wrong, the consequences are almost always catastrophic. This is why selecting an experienced attorney with a proven ability to identify and understand the many potentialities and interplay of any number of causal factors is of critical importance. Likewise, entrusting your claim to an attorney who also respects the magnitude of your personal loss, appreciates your fears,listens to your concerns, and shares your need for answers is essential. Jeannete Lewis is that attorney. When aviation crashes occur, they typically result from human error, mechanical error or the environment. Jeannete Lewis has handled weather related crashes, air traffic control failures by federal government and private employees, improperly certified engines, design and manufacturing defects, negligent maintenance and pilot error. Some of the local non-military, general aviation matters she has handled include the 2009 crash of a Piper Turbo Saratoga over the Florida Everglades; the 2008 mid-air collision between two instructional flights in Broward County; the 2000 crash of a local news helicopter in Miami; the 1998 crash of an Aero Commander just after take-off in Boca Raton; the 1996 of a Cessna 402A in Miami; the 1997 crash of a single-engine Mooney in Tallahassee; the 1996 crash of a Cessna P210 in Key West; and the 1994 crash of a Beech Baron in Lakeland, Florida.

In addition to litigating aviation cases, Ms. Lewis has co-chaired the Aviation and Space Committee of the Tort & Insurance Practice Section of the American Bar Association, co-chaired the ABA’s National Aviation Institute in New York City, and has been an invited speaker on aviation litigation issues such as the impact of flight automation, litigating against the United States, the government contractor defense, handling foreign crashes, and the application and interpretation of international aviation treaties.

Notable cases include:

Schippers v. United States of America – Settlement 1.890 Million
On October 26, 2009 a Beech B100 aircraft encountered embedded VIP 5 convective activity at around FL250 while in Houston Center’s airspace. The aircraft crashed killing passenger Richard Schippers and three others on board, including his son, Shane. Suit was brought in the Middle District of Florida pursuant to the Federal Tort Claims Act against the United States for negligent air traffic control services. In the lawsuit it was alleged that the controller failed to properly set his screen to show the heaviest convective radar returns, declined to give the pilot’s requested vector and instead issued a vector that placed the aircraft in the most severe convective weather activity, which no pilot is equipped to handle. Richard Schippers was survived by his loving wife of many yeasr. The matter was settled at mediation.

Estates of Barber v. Bull Gator Air, Inc., XYZ Engine Mfgr., and ABC Aircraft Mfgr. – Confidential Settlements
In September 2009 a Piper Turbo Saratoga crashed into the Florida Everglades after an in-flight engine fire and smoke-filled cabin caused its pilot to depart controlled flight and crash. All on board were killed, including the mother, father (pilot) and 12-year old brother of the sole surviving family member who was not on the fateful flight. Product liability claims were brought against the aircraft manufacturer, engine manufacturer and negligence claims were brought against the corporate entity owning the aircraft – a dangerous instrumentality under Florida law. Maintenance-wise, the aircraft engine was beyond the recommended time for overhaulbut had satisfactory compression tests. Post-crash metallurgy analysis revealed that the engine’s #5 cylinder fuel injection line failed at the braised joint, likely due to excessive vibration of the engine, causing fuel to spray out and ignite from the heat of the nearby turbocharger. The engine manufacturer raised Florida’s statue of repose as a complete defense to the action against it. However, lawyers on behalf of the surviving young child argued that the aircraft engine was not substantially similar to the predecessor engine whose vibratory testing had been used by the manufacture to obtain certification of the subject engine model, — hence triggering an exception to the statute of repose. The case settled at mediation.

Weber v. Slings by Aviation, Inc. – $4 Million – Verdict Wrongful death (S.D. Florida)
Cadet Pace Weber and an instructor pilot at the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado were killed in 1997 during a pilot screening sorti. The Slingsby T-3A Firefly aerobatic aircraft they were flying experienced vapor lock and entered a spin from which they had insufficient altitude and inability to recover. The crash was the direct result of poor design and product defect brought about by Slings by’s decision to take an off the shelf composite aircraft with a 200 HP engine, and outfit it with a 250 HP engine as needed by the USAF, except Slings by never changed the size of fuel lines and fuel pumps. When operating at high altitude in warmer weather, the aircraft as designed experienced vapor lock. When combined with the poor aerodynamic features of the aircraft, it was virtually impossible to recover controlled flight. Cadet Weber was the 3rd Cadet and his instructor pilot the 3rd instructor to die in the T-3A Firefly between 1995 and 1997. Following the third crash in as many years, the USAF grounded and discontinued use of all remaining 110 aircraft.

Rando v. Slings by Aviation, Inc., – Confidential settlement. (S.D. Florida)
Cadet Dennis Rando was the 2d cadet to die during pilot screening in the T-3A Firefly at the United States Air Force Academy. The crash occurred in 1996 and also claimed the life of Dennis Rando’s instructor pilot. Dennis is survived by his mother, father and sister in Massachusetts.

Morgan v. United States of America and XYZ Maintenance Company – Settlement $1.9 Million
Action on behalf of surviving spouse of a pilot killed in a single engine general aviation aircraft in Tallahassee, Florida. The crash was an alleged result of the negligent administration of air traffic control services and a failed engine.

Mintz v. United States of America – Settlement $1.1 Million (S.D. Florida)
The Plaintiff’s mother and father were killed when her father’s Aero Commander, piloted by him, crashed shortly after takeoff. The controller at Miami ARTCC failed to disseminate a convective SIGMET (WST) covering the area of the intended flight path wherein the airplane was when it encountered a high intensity cell and heavy precipitation.

Pierce v. XYZ Helicopter Manufacturer — Settlement $1.1 Million
A combination of negligent design and reckless piloting caused the tail boom of “Sky 6” to be severed in flight resulting in it crashing in Miami.

Shepherd v. Pompano Air Center – Settlement, $1.1 Million
An ATP rated pilot died in a Louisiana crash of Russian-made aerobatic Sukhoi SU-31 aircraft after the cotter pin migrated out during flight causing the elevator control system to fail during flight, causing plane to plummet several thousand feet. Defendant assembled, equipped and sold the aircraft.

Kahn v. United States of America – Judgment (S.D. Florida)
The pilot of a Cessna 402A crashed on approach to MIA. The government alleged the pilot ran out of fuel as evidenced by only a small, post-crash fire. Plaintiff alleged the aircraft encountered wake turbulence form a prior landing Boeing 747 and that air traffic control did not timely or properly sequence the respective aircraft. The case was tried and resulted in a judgment for the Plaintiff.