Jury Finds Winner Aviation Negligent in Crash

AINmxReports » December 21, 2011
December 21, 2011, 10:30 AM

In a verdict that is certain to give maintenance facilities incentive to review their policies and procedures, a Philadelphia jury has awarded Dr. Robert Marisco Jr. and his fiancée, Heather Moran, both of Akron, Ohio, $11.35 million in compensatory damages in a lawsuit that claimed that Winner Aviation’s negligence contributed  to a 2007 accident. The jury found Winner Aviation to be negligent and to have breached warranties in its inspection, maintenance and repair of a Cessna Skymaster and that the misconduct was a direct cause of an emergency, off-airport landing. The jury also found the plaintiff was 20 percent negligent in the accident.

On Aug. 8, 2007, the couple was flying back to Ohio in Marisco’s Cessna Skymaster when the rear engine on the centerline-thrust twin lost power shortly after takeoff from DeKalb-Peachtree Airport in Georgia. Attempts to restart the engine failed. Moran, a professional pilot with regional airline experience, attempted an off-airport emergency landing that resulted in the aircraft catching fire. Both occupants suffered disabling and disfiguring injuries, including third-degree burns covering nearly 40 percent of their bodies.

Winner Aviation of Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport in Ohio had maintained the twin-engine aircraft since it was purchased in 2006. According to the plaintiff, from 2006 until the time of the crash, the Skymaster was plagued by recurrent problems with its rear engine. Winner Aviation performed repeated troubleshooting on the wastegate when, in fact, the problems went much deeper, according to the plaintiff.

During the trial the plaintiffs claimed, among other things, that Winner Aviation never undertook repairs or overhaul of the rear engine that were necessary to keep it in an airworthy condition. The plaintiffs further alleged that Winner Aviation’s misdiagnosis of the recurrent problems of power loss in the rear engine was compounded by a failure to have an appropriate inspector investigate all work that its mechanics were performing. The plaintiffs also alleged that Winner Aviation was aware that the front engine was long overdue for a complete overhaul but never recommended one. They further argued that the failure to overhaul the engine or, at the very least, perform a proper inspection and repair of its valve guides and other engine parts caused a diminution of power during an in-flight emergency precisely when full power was most important.

In an exclusive interview Rick Hale, president and CEO of Winner Aviation, told AIN he is disappointed in the jury’s verdict, especially in light of the fact that immediately post-accident the pilot had stated that the condition focused on by the plaintiffs during trial “had been fully resolved.”

“The aircraft departed that airport and had flown approximately ten miles north when an engine problem purportedly developed. Rather than head directly back to DeKalb-Peachtree, the pilot initially maneuvered the aircraft for some period of time, attempting to resolve the problem and then rejected the opportunity to land at a smaller, private airport and attempted to make it back to DeKalb-Peachtree. When the pilot was not able to maintain altitude, she attempted an off-airport landing [at a water treatment facility] but was not able to do so effectively and a crash landing resulted with an ensuing fire,” Hale said.

Winner’s defense was based on the fact that the ongoing condition with the aircraft had focused on the turbocharger wastegate and once a new wastegate was installed in the aircraft the problem had been resolved, and the pilot’s statement post-accident confirmed the resolution of that condition. Winner asserted that there was no ongoing deteriorating condition in the rear engine that was readily discoverable. There was nothing in the engine that would suggest a loss of the oil pressurization system to the propeller control. Measurements of the components in the oil transfer system to the propeller control showed that all those components were within factory-new dimensions. Hale also emphasized that post-trial statements by the pilot confirmed that she had not applied full power to the front engine or retracted the rear-engine cowl flaps. Hale said there were a number of issues during trial that remain in dispute, and that Winner intends to appeal the verdict.

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Steven Strollo
on December 22, 2011 - 2:26am

I would like to hear more about "The plaintiffs also alleged that Winner Aviation was aware that the front engine was long overdue for a complete overhaul but never recommended one. "

Was this owner made aware of an engine overhaul being due in advance? Why wouldn't a repair station inform a customer about work that would be billable?

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David A. Lombardo
on December 22, 2011 - 8:56am

Steven,

I expect a lot more information will come out during the appeal process.

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Wingman
on December 22, 2011 - 9:24am

this is the safest twin engine aircraft out there, you dont even need a twin engine rating for this thing. Bad luck, bad judgment, and poor pilot skills caused this and nothing else. Im sure that if the aircraft was purchased in 2006 the new owners were well aware of the front engine needing or coming upon engine overhaul. im not positive but i think its only a 1600 TBO for that ship. how much could they have flown to be "long overdue for a complete overhaul" a year later. This case reeks of an uneducated jury feeling sorry for someone who contributed to their own demise far more than 20%.

go get em Hale best of luck with your appeal

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Straightalk1
on December 22, 2011 - 12:06pm

Wingman's got it...Regional Airline Pilot experience is usually a Red flag in General Aviation...Over confidence and bad judgement is the usual result...One more example of the legal system not placing responsibility where it belongs...

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neil stewart
on December 22, 2011 - 7:14pm

The owner operator is responseble for the airworthyness of the aircraft. I am waiting to see what the appeal process brings to light.

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Raghe
on December 23, 2011 - 3:36am

This way the European “EASA” impose the CAMO system- where a private operate must have an approve maintenance organization to oversee the Continues Airworthiness Maintenance Program (CAMP) Even a simple aircraft chapter 5, AD, S/B…. could be complicate to pilot or operator.

Even though the FAR is very clear that the Owner Operate is responsible for the airworthiness of the aircraft, yet the lawyers find a way to shift this responsibility to MRO… I suspect this is begging of such case…..it’s time to change the regulation to similar EASA.

If we get blamed for it, why not get paid for it- by establishing CAMO system where the owner/operate pays a fee for a service to look after the CAMP

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Hermann Kranabetter
on December 25, 2011 - 9:11am

As former maintenance manager of an repair station, I have seen a lot of cases similar to this one, fortunately with some better ending. But the base line is always the pressure by customer to keep the maintenance invoice as low as possible and to be honest often maintenance staff don't have the experience to oversee the consequenses of releasing an aircraft in any daut of its airworthiness. Even uncomplicated events like piston engines can give a mechanic some hard time and time counts. On the other hand, no mechanik is that stupid to release an aircraft which is not satisfactorily tested during engine run.
But what should be kristall clear is, that the owner/operator of privat aircraft are responsible of the airworthiness of their vehicles. And as long as engine overhauls are just recommendations for private useres, the repairstation my recommend, but the owner must not do it. The risk of operation is the burden of the operator and I hope the repair station has some good lawyers to make that clear to the judges and
will win that case and get the chance to learn from it.

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