Recent accidents spur lawsuit frenzy

 - September 18, 2006, 10:53 AM

Hendrick Motorsports

The Accident

Ten people died on Oct. 24, 2004, when a Beech King Air 200 operated by Hendrick Motorsports flew into Bull Mountain in Stuart, Va., after attempting to complete
a missed approach at Martinsville/Blue Ridge Airport. The NTSB concluded that “the probable cause of this accident was the flight crew’s failure to properly execute the published instrument approach procedure, including the published missed approach procedure, which resulted in controlled flight into terrain. Contributing to the cause of the accident was the flight crew’s failure to use all available navigational aids to confirm and monitor the airplane’s position during the approach.”

The NTSB believes the pilots relied on GPS position data that showed distance from Martinsville Airport instead of from the BALES LOM on the LOC 30 approach. Despite having overflown the airport, the pilots didn’t turn right as required for the missed approach procedure and the King Air hit Bull Mountain at about 2,450 feet msl. “Radar data indicated that the flight crew initiated the missed approach 7.5 nm beyond the MAP,” the NTSB report stated. “The airplane then entered a straight-ahead climb on the runway heading.”

The Lawsuit

So far, four lawsuits have been filed relating to the Hendrick Motorsports accident, against Hendrick Motorsports, the pilots and the federal government (air traffic controllers).

Dianne Dorton, whose husband, Randall, was killed in the accident, filed a lawsuit claiming negligence and intentional misconduct by Hendrick Motorsports and negligence by pilots Richard Tracy and Elizabeth Morrison.

The lawsuit claims that weather conditions at Martinsville “were below the weather minimums provided in the Code of Federal Regulations Title 14, Part 91.” Acts or omissions of Hendrick Motorsports and/or its employees included departing to an airport and attempting to land when they knew that the weather conditions “were such that the aircraft could not be landed there safely” (the NTSB report noted that the Martinsville weather was at minimums); failure to execute the descent properly during the approach; failing to fly the missed approach procedure when they knew the weather was too poor to land and not flying the missed approach upon reaching the missed approach point; and not flying safely and avoiding terrain.

Mitsubishi MU-2

The Accident

The cause of the crash of an air taxi MU-2 on March 25, 2004, near Pittsfield, Mass., is not conclusive, according to the NTSB. The probable cause listed in the report was “The pilot’s loss of aircraft control for undetermined reasons, which resulted in an inadvertent stall/spin and subsequent impact with the ground.”

The NTSB report noted that “pseudoephedrine and diphenhydramine were detected in the pilot’s urine. Diphenhydramine was not detected in the blood.”

The report also found that there were four pilot reports for light to moderate rime to mixed icing in clouds, from the freezing level to 16,000 feet. “Airmet Zulu was current for icing conditions from the freezing level to 22,000 feet over the route of flight and the accident site.” The pilot was cruising at 17,100 feet when the MU-2 climbed 300 feet, descended 10,000 feet in 46 seconds, climbed 1,000 feet, then descended again, according to radar data. Witnesses told the NTSB that they saw the MU-2 in a flat spin before impact.

The Lawsuit

The lawsuit related to the accident was filed on behalf of the family of pilot Brian Templeton. Defendants include Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Honeywell, Mid-Continent Instruments and Royal Air Freight (the operator).
The lawsuit accuses Mitsubishi of building an airplane with the following defects:

• No trim-in-motion alerting system and automatic autopilot disconnect system.

• The autopilot opposes the control inputs of the pilot by trimming the aircraft flight-control surfaces in the opposite direction of the pilot control wheel inputs.

• The de-icing system didn’t meet requirements of Appendix C of Part 25 for flight into known- icing conditions, nor did the airplane have a proper and adequate ice-detection system or proper and adequate instruction in use and warnings related to operation in icing conditions.

• No proper and adequate instruction in the use and warnings relating to operation with the autopilot engaged.

• No proper and adequate instruction in the use and warnings relating to upset recovery.

• The airplane failed to meet the requirements of Part 23.143 through 23.253 at all practical loading conditions and operating altitudes for which certification was granted without requiring exceptional piloting skill, alertness or strength.

The lawsuit also accuses Mitsubishi of knowingly misrepresenting these defects to the FAA.

Claims against Honeywell involve the autopilot and trim system and the lack of warning of trim-in-motion anomalies, lack of an automatic autopilot trim disconnect system, lack of proper and adequate instruction in the use of the autopilot and trim system and misrepresentation of these alleged defects and also problems with use of this equipment during icing conditions.

Mid-Continent Instruments is accused of negligence related to the manufacture and overhaul of the MU-2’s altitude controller.

Royal Air Freight, according to the lawsuit, was negligent in performing maintenance on the aircraft, autopilot and de-icing system and in supplying information to support an alternate means of compliance for an MU-2 Airworthiness Directive.

The MU-2 lawsuit claims that the 18-year statute of repose created by the General Aviation Revitalization Act doesn’t apply in this case, because the MU-2 was designed and manufactured by a non-U.S. company. Nothing in the act mentions any exemption based on the country of manufacture.

Cessna Caravan

The Accidents

Nolan Law Group has filed five lawsuits based on what it claims are five icing accidents. However, not all of the accidents involved icing, according to the NTSB.

• Bessemer, Ala., Dec. 1, 2001: two fatalities. Probable cause: “The poor in-flight planning by the pilot-in-command for his initiation of the ILS approach to Runway 05 with weather conditions below minimums for the approach contrary to the Federal Aviation Regulations [Part 135], and the failure of the pilot to maintain control of the airplane during a missed approach, resulting in the in-flight collision with trees then terrain.”

• Alma, Wis., March 15, 2002: one fatality. Probable cause: “The pilot not removing the ice contamination from the airplane before departure and the pilot intentionally flying into known severe icing conditions, resulting in the aircraft not being able to maintain altitude/clearance from the terrain. Factors in the accident included the icing conditions and the trees encountered during the forced landing.”

• Rockford, Ill., Dec. 17, 2002: one fatality. Probable cause: “The pilot’s failure to maintain control of the airplane during the ILS approach. Factors associated with the accident were the low ceilings, high winds, crosswind and wind shear.”

• San Angelo, Texas, Jan. 24, 2003: two serious injuries. The NTSB has not yet issued a final report on the accident. After the Caravan crashed, according to the preliminary report, “Two of the witnesses reported that they observed between one-quarter and one inch of ice on the various protected and unprotected surfaces of the aircraft.”

• Bellevue, Idaho, Dec. 6, 2004: two fatalities. Probable cause: “The pilot’s failure to maintain aircraft control while on approach for landing in icing conditions. Inadequate airspeed was a factor.”

The Lawsuits

According to Nolan Law Group, “the lawsuits charge that Cessna designed and manufactured unreasonably dangerous aircraft for flight into icing conditions…[and] tests and data submitted by Cessna for certification of the aircraft for operation in icing conditions were incomplete and faulty.” Four of the complaints below have been consolidated into one, according to a Nolan spokeswoman.

• Bessemer, Ala., Dec. 1, 2001. Cessna is at fault, this lawsuit claims, for design and sale of  “an aircraft that permitted an unsafe and dangerous accretion of ice upon its airframe and flight-control surfaces; had a propensity to stall when the control column was pulled aft in icing conditions”; lacked proper warnings for operation in icing conditions and adequate ice-detection or de-ice systems; and was negligent for these alleged defects and for not taking remedial action. This lawsuit also names Bessemer Aviation and BancServ Air.

• Alma, Wis., March 15, 2002. The lawsuit accuses Cessna of “flagrant disregard for the safety of persons,” use of a wing airfoil with a “dangerous propensity for degraded performance in icing and frost conditions,” inadequate coverage and shedding of ice by the de-ice system and insufficient warnings in manuals about operation in icing conditions. The lawsuit also names Priority Air Charter/Jilco Industries and Goodrich, manufacturer of the de-ice boots.

• The lawsuit involving the Dec. 6, 2004 accident in Bellevue, Idaho, names Cessna and Goodrich and makes nearly the same accusations as those associated with the Alma, Wis. crash.

• Rockford, Ill., Dec. 17, 2002. This lawsuit doesn’t mention icing, but it does accuse Cessna of willful and wanton conduct and fraud or malice, and as a result, “the aircraft was caused to and did crash into trees and ground approximately 2.1 miles from the Greater Rockford Airport.” This lawsuit also names two air traffic controllers. It is not clear exactly how Cessna or the controllers are at fault.

• San Angelo, Texas, Jan. 24, 2003. This complaint wasn’t available from Nolan.