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Aviation Accident Cases

Aviation Accident/Space Shuttle Challenger

Confidential Settlement

Tom Comerford was involved in the successful representation of the family of the pilot of the Space Shuttle Challenger (Mike Smith) against Morton Thoikol, the manufacturer of the solid rocket boosters that caused the death of the entire crew. After lengthy discovery demonstrated that the fault for this tragedy rested on the defective “O-ring” seals, the case settled on a confidential basis on the eve of trial.

Aviation Accident/American Eagle Flight 4184 Crash

American Eagle Flight 4184 crash near Roselawn, Indiana: Tom Comerford was involved in the successful representation of some passengers killed in the crash. Suits were brought against the airline operators as well as the foreign manufacturers, alleging that the wings of the aircraft, a ATR-72 turboprop, were defectively designed for flight in icing conditions. Discovery showed that the airline was also negligent. Tom Comerford was a member of the plaintiffs’ steering committee for the cases that had been consolidated for discovery in Chicago under multi-district litigation statutes and rules. These cases were resolved shortly before trial for $110 million.

Aviation Accident/Manufacturing Defect

The president and CEO of a technology firm in Atlanta was killed when his plane crashed after engine failure less than a mile from an airport. The evidence showed that a manufacturing defect on a cylinder head of the engine had caused a crack that led to severe vibrations during flight. The wrongful death case settled for $5,500,000.

Train Accident And Derailment/Death From Exposure to Chlorine Gas

In 2006, the firm settled a wrongful death case involving a 43-year-old man who left behind a wife and three sons, ages 17, 19 and 20. He died from exposure to chlorine gas that escaped from a train car that derailed early on January 6, 2005, in Graniteville, South Carolina. The decedent was working the night shift in a textile manufacturing building near where the train derailed. In the complaint, plaintiff alleged that the derailment was caused by a switch that had been left open by a railroad crew late in the afternoon the day before. The case settled before trial on a confidential basis.

Aviation Accident/Planes Collide

The pilots of two single engine airplanes collided in flight due to the oversight of an air traffic controller. The firm represented both parties. The cases were settled for $7 million under the Federal Tort Claims Act after extensive discovery and pretrial procedures, despite claims of contributory negligence.

Aviation Accident/In-Flight Breakup

A pilot was killed when the Cessna 210 he was flying experienced an in-flight breakup. The plaintiff alleged that there was a design defect in the trim tab actuator rod and elevator spar assembly. After a four-week trial in Federal Court in Winston-Salem in May 1994, the jury returned a verdict and the court entered judgment for more than $4.5 million. The jury verdict was affirmed by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. The estate also recovered $850,000 from the government under the Federal Tort Claims Act because air traffic controllers directed the plane into bad weather. Tom Comerford handled the direct and cross examinations of dozens of witnesses who testified during the five week trial.

Aviation Accident/Wrongful Death

Tom Comerford represented one of the three passengers killed in a helicopter crash after the number-two bearing in the turbine engine seized. Discovery led to settlement of all three cases on a confidential basis before trial. The evidence developed showed a dangerous defect in the engine which the manufacturer acknowledged and took steps to correct.

Aviation Accident/Negligence

The pilot and co-pilot of an AirCare helicopter from Baptist Hospital in Winston-Salem died when the helicopter crashed into the side of a mountain in West Virginia. After evidence obtained indicated that the air traffic controller’s negligence caused the crash, the cases under the Federal Tort Claims Act settled for $1.3 million and $873,000, respectively.

Aviation Accident/Helicopter Crash

Case against Robinson Helicopter Company: The pilot was killed when the Robinson R-22 helicopter he was flying crashed near Raleigh shortly after takeoff. The plaintiff alleged that the design of the two-bladed helicopter was defective and could actually cut itself apart under certain circumstances, rendering it inherently defective. The wrongful death case settled after it was successfully tried to a jury (plaintiff’s verdict) in Federal Court in Wilmington.

Aviation Accident/American Eagle Flagship Flight 3379 Crash

American Eagle Flagship Flight 3379 crash near Morrisville, North Carolina. The federal cases arising out of this crash were consolidated into the Middle District of North Carolina pursuant to multi-district litigation statutes and rules. The evidence showed that the pilot in command, who had been fired for incompetence by another airline, negligently flew the aircraft and caused the crash. Tom Comerford acted as counsel for eleven of the victims. Nine of the cases were settled. Two were tried successfully (plaintiff’s verdicts) in the U.S. District Court in Greensboro.

Aviation Accident/Plane Crash

On March 1, 2003, the accident aircraft departed the Mount Airy airport at about 7:30 p.m. on March 1, 2003. Flight visibility was impaired not only by clouds and fog but darkness prevailed. Shortly after initiating take-off, the aircraft disappeared from the radar screens of the Air Traffic Controllers tracking the flight. The plane crashed about one and three quarter miles southwest of the airport. The aircraft took off from the airport, climbed, and then entered a steep, nose down spiral dive from approximately 1500 above ground level. The aircraft impacted the ground with such force that it was driven eight to ten feet into the ground. All of the occupants were killed in the crash. Plaintiff alleged the crash resulted from pilot error. The parties settled with the Estate of the pilot relatively early in the litigation.

Aviation Accident/Injured Bystander

Confidential Settlement

A taxi driver who was struck by a propeller and horribly injured while helping to jumpstart an aircraft. The case settled for a confidential amount before trial in federal court.

Aviation Accident/Injured Passenger

A passenger was seriously injured in a small plane that crashed just short of the runway near Birmingham, Alabama, after running out of fuel. The case settled for the limits of the insurance policy available.

Aviation Accident/Plane Crash

A physician’s assistant was killed in New Mexico when the pilot (also a heart surgeon) of the jet aircraft in which he was a passenger crashed shortly after takeoff at night. The two were on the way to “harvest” a heart to bring back for transplant for the pilot’s patient. The plaintiff alleged that the hospital had violated its own protocol by allowing the heart surgeon, who did not have sufficient training or experience and had not had sufficient rest, to fly the “harvest team” across the state. The case was brought in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and was settled successfully before trial.

Aviation Accident/Wrongful Death

An action for wrongful death was filed in North Carolina in Forsyth County Superior Court on behalf of a young man who was killed in the crash of an Airborne Express DC-8 near Narrows, Virginia on December 22, 1996. The decedent left behind a young wife and two small children. He was a maintenance employee for Airborne Express. The plaintiff alleged negligent design against McDonnell Douglas and negligent repair and modifications on the part of Triad International Maintenance Corp. (TIMCO). The case settled in mediation for a confidential amount.

Aviation Accident/Wrongful Death

A 38-year-old police officer was piloting a volunteer Civil Air Patrol marijuana detection mission in the eastern part of North Carolina when his engine suddenly quit. The engine would not restart and the plane crashed in a cotton field, killing the pilot and two passengers instantly. The mission required low and slow flight on an extremely hot day in July 2002. Unknown to the pilot, a husband and father of two children, the type of engine installed in the single engine propeller airplane had a history of sputtering and then quitting when operated at low RPM in hot weather. The condition caused vapor to fill the engine’s fuel lines. The vapor, in turn, starved the engine of necessary air and prevented the engine from restarting in flight. The anonymous Plaintiff settled the case with the anonymous engine manufacturer, aircraft manufacturer, and component manufacturer after mediation in February, 2008.

Aviation Accident/Dual Engine Failure

A twin-engine aircraft experienced a dual engine failure while in route to its home base in Virginia. The pilot survived the ensuing crash but suffered severe injuries. After months of investigation and discovery, the repair shop that had recently worked on his engine paid the full limits of its insurance policy.

**These cases are representative of how the firm obtains fair compensation for the victims of airline and general aviation disasters. Comerford, Chilson, & Moser attorneys have helped many other clients fare successfully in claims against commercial airlines, general aviation aircraft and engine manufacturers, negligent pilots and negligent air traffic controllers. The firm’s aviation practice is recognized not only in North Carolina, but also across the United States.