Air Force Agrees to Change ARFF Procedures; Pay $1.4 Million to Settle Andreini Death Lawsuit

Aerobatic hall of fame pilot Eddie Andreini was flying a routine at the Travis Air Force Base. He was attempting a stunt known as an inverted ribbon cut. Something went wrong. Eddie's Stearman slid upside down along the runway, coming to a stop at show center. His Stearman caught fire. Eddie couldn’t get out. The crowd watched, prayed, and waited for fire trucks to arrive. Some bystanders wanted to rush to the plane to help, but the announcer warned everyone to stay back and "let the firefighters do their job."

But the firefighters didn't do their job. By the time the trucks showed up, almost 5 minutes had passed. It was too late. Eddie, age 77, had burned to death.Eddie Andreini Inverted Ribbon Cut

When they couldn't get answers from Travis brass, Eddie's family sued the United States Air Force. The Air Force denied any liability. It claimed its response to Eddie's accident was "by the book;" that the trucks arrived on scene within the time set by all Air Force standards; and that the Air Force response to Eddie's mishap was otherwise in all respects "exemplary." Further, according to the Air Force, the fire spread so fast that Eddie could not have been saved regardless of how quickly trucks arrived. Finally, the Air Force claimed it was immune from the family's lawsuit because, first, the Air Force is an instrumentality of the United States Government, and second, Eddie had signed a waiver of liability before he took off.

We proved that the Air Force's rescue efforts didn't even meet its own standards. Trucks could have saved Eddie had they been positioned at show center.  But instead, the trucks were positioned more than a mile away. Finally, instead of being suited up and ready to respond during Eddie's performance, firefighters were wandering about the airfield in shirt sleeves taking pictures when the crash alarm rang out. We showed that, under the circumstances, the Air Force was not entitled to immunity from suit under the Federal Tort Claims Act.

With trial against the Air Force set to begin later this year, the Air Force agreed to change its procedures for protecting performers at its air shows across the country. From now on, it will position fire trucks so that they have immediate access to the show line. It will also have firefighters dressed and ready to go whenever a performer is in the air, eliminating the time needed after a crash for fire firefighters to get dressed and get to their trucks. Finally, the Air Force will pay the family $1.4 million, believed to be a record government payout for the death of a 77 year old.

It took four years of litigation to hold the Air Force accountable for its role in causing Eddie's death. But by persevering, the family helped ensure that lives of other performers will not be needlessly lost at Air Force air shows.

Related Entries:

Andreini Family Speaks Out

Andreini Family Files Suit Against the Air Force

Air Force Documents Reveal Travis Confused

Air Force Hides the Ball


Family Sues ICON for Fatal A5 Crash

ICON Aircraft hired away from Ford Motor Company a superstar PhD to lead its engineering department.  When Cagri Sever showed up at ICON's facility in Vacaville, the first thing ICON did was send him off on a "demonstration" flight with the company's chief pilot, Jon Karkow. Karkow flew to Lake Berryessa, a virtual stone's throw from the ICON factory.  Once there, Karkow couldn't resist the urge to engage is some low level maneuvering over the water.  Minutes after takeoff, Karkow crashed onto the shore, leaving both of them dead.

There are less than two dozen ICON A5 aircraft flying.  Yet, there have already been two fatal crashes, the second one taking the life of baseball player Roy Halladay.  Both crashes involved hot-dogging.

Critics of the A5 -- which some refer to as "a jet-ski with wings" -- questioned from the outset whether it was such a good idea. The A5 is all about the fun and excitement of flying close to the water.  But low level maneuvering is dangerous business and, as any fighter pilot will tell you, it's even more so when conducted over water.  Does it really make sense to market a machine built for this purpose to the general public?

ICON has already conceded that Karkow was to blame.  And the National Transportation Safety Board agrees, having determined that the crash was the result of the pilot's "failure to maintain clearance from terrain while maneuvering at a low altitude"-- NTSB code for "hot-dogging."

Along with our co-counsel Nelson & Fraenkel,  we've filed a wrongful death lawsuit against ICON on behalf of Sever's wife and two children. 

The general rule is that a family cannot sue an employer for a loved one's work-related death.  Such suits are generally barred by Workers Compensation laws.  But this situation is unusual.  The ICON A5 is a seaplane and it crashed along the shores of Lake Berryessa, which is considered "navigable waters."  Thus, the federal laws of admiralty apply.  Those laws, which would hold ICON accountable for the actions of its chief pilot, trump state workers compensation law.

Sever v. ICON Aircraft by Mike Danko on Scribd

Montreal Convention Permits Passenger to Recover for Fear of Infection

Plaintiff was on a flight from Abu Dhabi to Chicago.  She placed her hand into the seatback pocket, and was unexpectedly stuck with a hypodermic needle that lay within.

Because the flight was international, the Montreal Convention applied to the passenger’s claim against the airline.  The airline conceded that the needle prick was an “accident” for the purposes of the Convention, and thus the passenger was entitled to compensation.  It also conceded that the passenger was entitled not just to compensation for the bodily injury suffered, but also the emotional distress that resulted from that injury.  But the bodily injury (the needle prick) and the pain from the prick (“ouch”) was nothing compared to the substantial emotional distress the passenger suffered over the course of the next year fearing that she had been infected with various diseases such as HIV.

The airline argued that it need not compensate the passenger for the emotional distress arising from the fear of infection because those fears were not caused by the bodily injury the passenger suffered, but rather by the nature of the instrumentality of the injury – the needle.

The trail judge agreed with the airline and threw out most of the passenger’s claim.  But the court of appeal reversed, ruling that Convention allows a passenger to recover for all the emotional injuries sustained as a result of the bodily injury, including those that flowed from the nature of the instrumentality of the injury.  In a somewhat unusual opinion, the court of appeal drew a number of diagrams to illustrate its point.  But the bottom line was fairly straightforward:

As this diagram makes clear, because an accident onboard Etihad’s aircraft caused Doe to suffer a bodily injury (a fact that Etihad concedes), Doe may therefore recover damages for her mental anguish, regardless of whether that anguish was caused directly by her bodily injury or more generally by the accident that caused the bodily injury.  That is because, either way, Doe’s mental anguish is “damage sustained in case of”—i.e., “in the event of” a compensable bodily injury.


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Paramedic's Family Out of Court in Skylife HEMS Crash

The NTSB hasn't yet issued its report on the fatal Skylife air ambulance crash in December 2015. But a Fresno judge has ruled that regardless of the cause, the family of one of the paramedics on board will not be allowed to sue either the operator of the helicopter (Rogers Helicopter) or the helicopter's owner,   (American Airborne), regardless of whether they were negligent in the helicopter's operation or maintenance.

As it turns out, both entities were partners with the paramedic's employer, Skylife .  An employee cannot sue his employer for a work related injury or death.  Nor can he sue the employor's partner.

Such claims are barred by the Workers' Compensation laws.


Monica Ribbeck Kelly Sued For Malpractice, Leaves The Country

 Aviation journalist Christine Negroni reports in Forbes that Monica Ribbeck Kelly, the lawyer who instituted “frivolous” legal proceedings after Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 went missing, has herself disappeared.  Not only was the Illinois Ethics Committee after Kelly, but she was being sued by victims of an airline disaster in China for promising to file suit on behalf of victims but failing to do so before the statute of limitations expired, leaving the victim’s without any legal recourse.  It appears that Kelly has shuttered her law office and gone back to her native Peru. 

According to Negroni, maybe this is the last we see of Ribbeck: 

There are few successful days in court associated with Monica Ribbeck [Kelly]’s high-profile representation of air disaster victims.  So while her departure from the US may deprive dissatisfied clients . . . of any legal recourse, it could be the last we see of her shenanigans with the American legal system.


Discretionary Function Exception to the Federal Tort Claims Act

If the United States Government is responsible for an accident, it can be sued just like any other wrongdoer under the Federal Tort Claims Act.  But there's an important exception -- the federal government cannot be sued for bad decisions that the government left to the federal employee's best judgment.  The "Discretionary Function Exception" is perhaps the most important limitation on a victim's right to sue the government when it causes injury or death.  And the exception is complicated. Claire Choo helps unravel it.


Tort Claims Act  

New Zealand Asks Whether Robinson Helicopters Are Simply Too Dangerous

Robinson helicopters are popular in New Zealand.  But while they make up only 35% of New Zealand's helicopter fleet, they account for 64% of all of New Zealand's fatal accidents.  


Some say the helicopter is especially prone to "mast bumping," a phenomenon where the rotor head tilts to such a degree that the rotor hub damages the mast on which on which it is attached.  In Robinson helicopters, a mast bump almost always causes the rotor head and the helicopter's blades to separate from the aircraft.  The result is illustrated in the video.   



An article appearing this weekend in the New Zealand Herald explains the controversy and, in particular, why the unique design of the Robinson's rotor head may be to blame.

Weight and Balance Issues in Riverside Cessna Crash?

The Cessna T310Q crashed shortly after takeoff.  For clues into the cause of the crash, the press has focused on the fact that the pilot, Nouri Hijazi, had difficulty getting the engines started. 

But what one witness had to say suggests that the plane was improperly loaded – specifically, it had too much weight in the back. According to the San Jose Mercury News, the witness watched the plane head off to the runway and saw something odd: 

[The witness] said she watched uneasily as the plane slowly taxied for takeoff.  As it did, the plane rocked back and forth, front to back, its tail nearly touching the ground. 

That can happen when there is too much weight in the back of the plane. And when an aircraft is loaded such that is isn't in proper balance, it can become uncontrollable shortly after takeoff and enter an aerodynamic spin or stall, even with the engines developing full power.  That is, though there engines are running fine, the aircraft will stop flying and simply fall out of the sky.  Judging from the security camera footage of the crash, something like may have happened. The video show the aircraft "falling" rather than "flying."  

FAA Turns Over Increasing Inspection Authority to Manufacturers

Four years ago, the NTSB questioned whether manufactures like Boeing should be allowed to self-certify that their aircraft designs meet FAA requirements.  The NTSB suggested that “self-certification” may have contributed to the battery fires that were being experienced on Boeing’s 787s.  After all, it’s the FAA's job to make an independent determination that an aircraft design is safe.  It makes little sense to pass that job to the manufacturer, who is hardly independent.

The FAA’s response was to delegate even more authority to manufacturers.  In fact, the GAO reports that 90% of all aircraft certification work is now outsourced to the manufacturers themselves. 

How is that working out?  Not surprisingly, not so well.  According to documents obtained by the Seattle Times,  through 2015, Boeing was fined $13 million to settle FAA proceedings arising from falsification of certification and repair work.  The Seattle Times noted that one Boeing mechanic told FAA investigators that he had been entering false data into aircraft inspection records for at least seven years.

Bogus Airplane Parts and a Cessna 182 Crash

A courageous client speaks to Stephen Stock about the risks to the flying public.