Appeals Court Reverses Award In Cirrus Crash Case

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday that Duluth-based Cirrus Design Corp. had no legal duty to provide pilot training to a Grand Rapids man whose plane crashed in 2003, killing him and his passenger.

The ruling reverses a lower court decision that found Cirrus and the University of North Dakota Aerospace Foundation, which conducted pilot training, negligent in the crash. Attorneys for victims’ families say it could have implications for all consumers — by possibly giving product manufacturers a way to insulate themselves from liability if they fail to warn consumers of dangers.

It also essentially vacates a more than $16 million award for families of pilot Gary Prokop and passenger James Kosak.

“This is a very troubling decision,” said Philip Sieff, an attorney for the Kosak family. He intends to appeal to the state Supreme Court; an attorney for the Prokops said he would also recommend an appeal.

One judge disagreed with the majority. In his dissent, Judge Roger Klaphake wrote that once Cirrus made “transition training” part of its purchase agreement, it voluntarily assumed a duty to provide the training.

Prokop, 47, and Kosak, 51, left Hill City on Jan. 18, 2003, for St. Cloud to watch their sons play in a hockey tournament. They crashed shortly after takeoff. The families alleged Cirrus and the University of North Dakota Aerospace Foundation didn’t provide adequate pilot training.

Jurors in Itasca County awarded Kosak’s family $7.4 million and Prokop’s family $12 million — but Prokop was found to be 25 percent liable, reducing his family’s award to $9 million.

Prokop, who received his pilot’s license in 2001, had bought the Cirrus SR22 roughly a month before the crash. According to the court record, when Prokop bought his new plane he was given an operating handbook with data about the aircraft, its limitations, emergency procedures, details on the autopilot system, and other information.

Cirrus included two days of transition training in the purchase price. The training, which isn’t required by the Federal Aviation Administration, is designed to familiarize an owner with the nuances of a new plane, according to the court record. The pilot training agreement states neither Cirrus nor its trainer will be responsible for the competency of purchaser.

“Although Prokop may have needed transition training to safely pilot the SR22, it does not follow that Cirrus had a duty to provide the training,” the opinion said. “Accordingly, any liability based on appellants’ failure to provide adequate transition training cannot be sustained under a product-liability theory.”

Prokop was not certified to fly in cloudy or inclement weather in which he would have to rely on instruments. Trial testimony showed that after takeoff, he encountered conditions that might have required such training.

The families claimed Cirrus and the trainer didn’t teach Prokop what he needed to know to escape the inclement weather.

“Because the claims challenge the effectiveness of the training, they sound in educational malpractice and are barred as a matter of law,” the judges wrote.

Klaphake disagreed, saying Cirrus wouldn’t give the plane to Prokop until he participated in the training, which included a checklist of tasks completed. The checklist for a maneuver to recover in inclement weather was left blank.

“Testimony at trial suggested that the failure to perform this very maneuver led to the fatal plane crash,” Klaphake wrote. “On these facts, the crash here is a direct and foreseeable consequence of appellants’ failure to provide the salient portion of the transition training to Prokop.”

He also said neither Cirrus nor the University of North Dakota Aerospace Foundation are educational institutions and educational malpractice laws shouldn’t be a factor.

Eric Magnuson, an attorney for Prokop’s family, said: “I think the court had to reach an awful long way to get the result that it did. They basically took a product liability case and turned it into educational malpractice.”

Bill King, vice president of business administration for Cirrus, said the appeals court ruled appropriately.

“This was a tragedy and it was not the fault of the airplane,” he said.

(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

  • ken

    Lets sue and put another company out of business. Life insurance paid out yes. Liabilities should be paid out to the family yes, but based on what the individual would have contributed over the number of years working. If the two would have earned what the pay out of 16 million is then pay them and not make promises you can’t or are not willing to keep.

  • Victim Du Jour

    I hate how Judges are being used as no mistakes or accident free world dictators.

    Maybe we should file a class action lawsuit against mass media for aiding and abetting lawsuit abuse terrorism.

  • Dave Seavy

    Yes it’s tragic, but life happens. Before long, widows and widowers are going to start suing someboy ANYBODY when their 90 year old spouse dies. I would not want my family to ruin a company over something that company had no control over. Did Cirrus guard the aircraft 24/7, making certain nobody but a qualified pilot operated it? Their job is to manufacture the aircraft. When it leaves their factory – it’s off their shoulders if they built it correctly. Besides that, I really don’t like the idea of my family getting filthy rich over my death.

  • June

    The thing is, the Prokop family is already filthy rich, before they were awarded the money.

  • MN Pilot

    As a pilot who personally owned a Cirrus aircraft and went through the training program I can tell you that it was very through. It was also training that focused strongly on safety and aircraft systems. Regardless of the aircraft type or training that is offered with the purchase of a new aircraft, it is the pilots responsibility to be qualified and capable to safely operate the aircraft.

    While this man will be missed as a fellow aviator, he walked into the training facility with a pilot license in hand. That license comes with the responsibility to ensure that he HAS the knowledge and skills to safely complete any flight. The cause of the accident was ultimately pilot error, not a defect in the aircraft.

    I don’t believe the family has any right to compensation from Cirrus, period. Regardless of the training provided, no special training is needed to fly a Cirrus vs. a Cessna, or Piper aircraft of similar type. Quite frankly a pilot with proper skills should be capable of controlled flight in any aircraft that falls within the category of his pilots license. Granted every aircraft has it’s own handling qualities, but keeping it in the air is pretty simple regardless.

    Would it be fair to sue if the aircraft broke into pieces due to defective engineering? Sure. Is it fair to demand 16 Million dollars when the operator failed the machine? No, of course not.

    Will 16 Million bring the pilot back to life? No, it only pads the pocket books of lawyers and the family. Life insurance exists for a reason, and hopefully that is where the payout will come for this family. Their decision to appeal the overturning of the judgment paid to them only shows greed.

    • Gregory B

      great comment you have way to much common sense for the average minnesotan to understand it seams most live in some kind of emotional haze instead of the real world

  • alp

    It’s the pilots duty to take any and all training offered to insure safe operation of their aircraft. The biggest danger to everyone is a newly licensed pilot or automoble driver for that matter.

    This person was a poor pilot for not taking additional training and paid the ultimate price what makes this worse was his passenger got killed because of his poor decisions.

blog comments powered by Disqus
Weather App
Thursday Night Football

Listen Live