Corboy & Demetrio Hits American Eagle for $2.1 million for Jury Trial of '94 Aircrash
July 12, 2001
After nearly 6½ years of legal wrangling about how and where the last case arising out of the 1994 North Carolina aircrash case would be tried, a federal jury in the Middle District of North Carolina has returned a record $1.4 million compensatory damage award which will be increased to $2.1 million under North Carolina's pre-judgment interest statute. The money will be paid to a 44 year old Zion man for loss of society damages resulting from the death of his brother, David Parker, Jr., a 14 year veteran of the Zion police force. Corboy & Demetrio in Chicago, Illinois, and W. Thompson Comerford, Jr. of Comerford & Britt in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, tried the case for the plaintiff.
The case suffered a surprisingly tortured procedural history before the plaintiff could ultimately have the case heard by a jury. Filed in the Circuit Court of Cook County in early 1995, the case was removed by the airline defendants to the Federal District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. It was then transferred to the Multidistrict Litigation Panel in Washington, DC whereupon it was then transferred to the Federal Court for the Middle District of North Carolina, the site of the crash. This case along with several others remained there for several years while liability discovery was conducted. During its time in North Carolina, the U.S. Supreme Court decided Lexecon v. Milberg Weiss, 523 U.S. 26, 118 S.Ct. 956, 140 L.Ed. 2d 62 (1998), which changed the law on where cases transferred under the MDL procedure would be tried. Liability was established in North Carolina and, as a result of the Lexecon decision, the case was transferred back to the Northern District of Illinois in 1999 for trial on damages only. On defendants' motion, Judge Norgle of the Northern District of Illinois re-transferred the case back to North Carolina for the damages trial ruling it would be more convenient for the parties and witnesses.
Judge Frank Bullock, Jr., Chief Judge of the Middle District of North Carolina, presided over the trial. "The defendants wanted the case tried in North Carolina in hopes of keeping the damage award down," the firm said. "The airline defendants wanted this case settled because we have a punitive damage claim which is now headed to the 4th Circuit Federal Court of Appeals for review. We believe the case will be set for a punitive damage trial in North Carolina federal court within two years."
Court documents show that on December 13, 1994, American Eagle Flight 3379, a Jetstream Super 31 aircraft, was on its way from Greensboro, North Carolina to Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina, 70 miles away, when it crashed in a wooded area at approximately 6:40 p.m. It was foggy and a steady drizzle was falling. The plane was approaching the airport in 37-degree weather when its image vanished from controllers' radar screens. The aircraft broke into two large pieces, with scattered wreckage. A fire broke out in the cockpit however the plane's flight data recorder and voice recorder were recovered.
Before Flight 3379 crashed into the dense, muddy woods near the Raleigh-Durham International Airport, the crew's conversation in the cockpit focused on an engine that may have somehow malfunctioned. After readying the plane for its approach to the airport, crew members talked of a perceived "flameout" of one of the engines and "an engine not operating properly" and then a warning bell sounded. Subsequent investigation showed that both engines were functioning properly at all times. The aircraft was a twin-engine turboprop. The pilot, Michael P. Hillis, had 457 hours flying in that model Jetstream.
Liability was established against the airlines in separate proceedings in North Carolina in 1998.
The $1.4 million award is the highest jury verdict for loss of society compensatory damages in the Federal District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina for a single man leaving only a brother. The defendant argued for an award of $100,000. North Carolina law requires the jury to reduce the award to Present Cash Value which is what the $1.4 million represents.
The jury's award will be increased to $2.1 million pursuant to North Carolina's pre-judgment interest statute.
A search of court records and jury verdict reports shows that this verdict raises the total recovery by Corboy & Demetrio to $23.9 million in verdicts and settlements arising out of this crash.
Flagship Airlines, a regional carrier in the Southeast United States, was operating the flight as American Eagle. Judgment was entered against American Eagle, AMR Eagle, Inc. and Flagship Airlines. The plaintiff is continuing to prosecute a punitive damage claim against American Airlines, American Eagle, AMR Eagle, Inc. and Flagship Airlines for the acts and omissions arising out of the flight and the defendants' knowledge of very serious questions regarding the captain's ability to safely pilot a commercial aircraft.