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Fri, Jul 20, 2012

Minnesota Supreme Court Rules In Favor Of Cirrus In 2003 Accident

Says The Company Not Required To Teach Pilots To Fly Its Airplanes

The Minnesota Supreme Court has handed down a ruling favorable to Cirrus Aircraft stemming from a 2003 accident which fatally injured a pilot and his passenger, both from Grand Rapids, MI.

In the ruling, the state high court said that the company is not required by law to teach people who buy its airplanes how to fly them.

The accident fatally injured pilot Gary Prokop and his passenger James Kosak. The families of the two men had filed the suit, claiming that Cirrus did not provide adequate pilot training to Prokop. The FAA does not require manufacturers to offer flight training, however Cirrus does offer a two-to-three day program to assist pilots in the transition to their new aircraft. The training is conducted by the University of North Dakota Aerospace Foundation. Cirrus Vice President of Business Administration told the Duluth News Tribune that the company does offer the training, and strongly recommends it, but it is optional and can be waived by the buyer.

Witnesses said they saw Prokop's plane, an SR-22, flying fast and low before impacting level terrain in a heavily wooded area at a nose-down angle of about 15 degrees. The NTSB's probable cause report cited pilot error, saying Prokop likely became disoriented due to a lack of visual references and failure to maintain altitude while flying in marginal weather. NTSB reports are not admissible as evidence in court.

A lower court had originally found in favor of the families, and awarded them $16.4 million. An appeals court overturned that ruling in 2011, and the state supreme court has upheld the decision.

King said while the decision is "enormous" for Cirrus, it is nothing to celebrate. The people flying the airplane cannot be brought back. However, he did say the ruling sets a precedent for the industry concerning flight training for purchasers of new aircraft. "In that respect, it's a far-reaching lawsuit," he said.

FMI: www.mncourts.gov/?page=230

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