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Sat, Mar 04, 2006

Cirrus Wrongful Death Cases Head To District Court

But... NTSB Says Pilot Error Caused Accident

Two wrongful death lawsuits against Cirrus Design Corp. stemming from a January 2003 accident have been kicked down to Itasca County (MN) District Court, after Cirrus unsuccessfully petitioned for the cases to be heard at the federal level.

The lawsuits were filed by next-of-kin on behalf of pilot Gary Prokop and passenger James Kosak, who were killed January 18, 2003 when their SR22 (file photo of type, above) impacted terrain south of Hill City, MN. News reports at the time said neighbors reported hearing the plane overhead, and saw it flying low and at high-speed before impacting the trees and bursting into flames.

According to the lawsuit filed on behalf of the Kosak family, Prokop took delivery of the SR22 from Cirrus on or about December 9, 2002, and received training as part of Cirrus's owner program over the next three days.

Both the Kosak lawsuit, and one filed on behalf of Prokop's family, assert Prokop was awarded with a training completion certificate upon completion of the training, as well as a high-performance endorsement on his ticket. However, both estates allege the Cirrus trainer omitted some of the training requirements -- most notably, the IFR portion.

Attorney Phil Sieff, who represents the Kosak estate, maintains Prokop didn't receive the "IFR Flight (Non-rated)" lesson, which was part of Cirrus training sold and promised to Prokop.

"By all appearances," one day of in-flight training on how to fly the airplane in bad weather conditions was skipped, Sieff said. "We believe it would have given him the tools to avoid the crash," Sieff said. "If you agree to provide four days of training, you do it. We think there was a very specific identifiable failure to train this guy as they said they would."

Cirrus denies the crash was the result of any act or omission by Cirrus, or its agents or employees.

"We know these guys," Bill King, Cirrus vice president of business administration,told the Duluth (MN) News-Tribune Wednesday. "It's very tragic. It's about losing customers. But this is a very interesting case. There have been absolutely zero allegations about anything to do with the aircraft. No one is arguing that the airplane was culpable in this tragic accident."

King added that Cirrus is not required by federal law to provide transition training to its customers, but does so anyway. He also pointed out that no amount of training can make up for poor judgment -- which he believes was at the core of Prokop's accident.

"The issue doesn't have so much to do with training as with a pilot taking off into bad weather," King said. "It was very windy and conditions were very marginal. We're not trying to hurtle rocks here, but this correlates back to a judgment question, not a training question."

In its Probable Cause report, the NTSB makes no mention of the aircraft. The agency's ruling reads as follows:

"Spatial disorientation experienced by the pilot, due to a lack of visual references, and a failure to maintain altitude. Contributing factors were the pilot's improper decision to attempt flight into marginal VFR conditions, his inadvertent flight into instrument meteorological conditions, the low lighting condition (night) and the trees."

In addition to their lawsuit against Cirrus, Kosak's estate also filed a negligence suit against Prokop's estate -- indicating, it would seem, that they believe Prokop was at least partially culpable in the accident.

Stay tuned.

FMI: Read The NTSB Probable Cause Report

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