$7.4 million jury verdict on behalf of a widow and her children for the wrongful death of a 51 year old man killed in a Cirrus plane crash near Hill City, Minnesota
June 4, 2009
This wrongful death case arose out of a plane crash that occurred on January 18, 2003. On that date, pilot Gary Prokop left Grand Rapids airport with his passenger, James Kosak, at 6:30 a.m. for St. Cloud for their sons' hockey tournament. The plane was pilot Greg Prokop’s new Cirrus SR22. The plane crashed approximately eight minutes later outside Hill City, MN. Neither man survived.
Daniel O'Fallon (who is now a judge in the 10th Judicial District) and Philip Sieff represented the next of kin of James Kosak, which included his wife, Mary Kosak, and their three children.
The next of kin of James Kosak sued the Estate of the pilot, Gary Prokop and Cirrus Design Corp. The suit against Cirrus alleged that the pilot was negligent. The passenger's family also sued Cirrus, claiming that Cirrus was negligent because a key flight lesson in the Cirrus transition training, VFR into IMC, had not been completed. This was based on the completed Cirrus syllabus for the transition training of pilot Gary Prokop where the flight lesson was unmarked. Cirrus included transition training in the price of the plane. In addition, James Kosak’s family claimed that the transition training program in general was unreasonable and did not meet industry standards because it was not scenario based, did not include personal risk assessment training specific to the SR22, and lacked appropriate oversight. The pilot’s family made the same allegations against Cirrus.
Cirrus denied the allegations and claimed that the pilot was completely at fault for taking off into marginal VFR conditions. Further, Cirrus claimed that although Flight 4a had been left unchecked, the instructor who conducted the training actually did the instruction in other lessons.
Initially, Cirrus removed the action to federal court, claiming complete preemption. The plaintiffs brought a motion to remand back to state court. Cirrus then sued the United States, claiming that the weather briefers should have given the pilot a VFR flight "not recommended" warning and, on this basis, again removed the case to federal court. The case remained in federal court for two years of discovery, followed by Cirrus' motions for summary judgment against the plaintiffs, and to strike the plaintiff's expert. The United States moved for summary judgment against Cirrus, claiming no duty was owed by the weather briefers. The court denied Cirrus' summary judgment motion as to plaintiffs' negligence claims, denied the motion to strike the expert's testimony, and granted the United States' motion for summary judgment. Absent the United States as a defendant, the court remanded the plaintiffs' cases back to state court for trial. Once in state court, University of North Dakota Aerospace Foundation moved to intervene as a defendant.
On June 4, 2009, after a seven day trial in Grand Rapids, MN (Itasca County), the jury returned a verdict. The jury found all defendants negligent and allocated fault as follows: Pilot Gary Prokop - 25%; Cirrus Design Corp. - 37.5%; UND Aerospace: 37.5%. The jury awarded the next of kin of passenger James Kosak $1.4 million in past and future economic loss and $6.0 million in non-economic loss and awarded the next of kin of pilot Gary Prokop $6.0 million in economic loss and $6.0 million in non-economic loss.
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