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Verdict of the Week: Pltfs' decedent caused plane crash, not hired pilot: defense

April 12, 2010

Verdict Search California


Marsha Voorhis and Nathan Voorhis v. Thermal Self Serve Inc., Signature Flight Support Corporation, Million Air Interlink Inc.,    Million Air La Quinta, The County of Riverside, Cessna Aircraft Company, Deanna Webb and La Quinta FBO Two LLC, No. RIC451391

Superior Court of Riverside County, Riverside, CA

Gloria C. Trask


Plaintiff Attorney(s)    
Lawrence P. Grassini, Grassini & Wrinkle, L.C., Woodland Hills, CA

Defense Attorney(s)      
William T. DelHagen (lead), Murchison & Cumming, LLP, Los Angeles, CA
Lisa D. Angelo, Murchison & Cumming, LLP, Los Angeles, CA
Paul R. Flaherty, Murchison & Cumming, LLP, Los Angeles, CA
Don G. Rushing, Morrison & Foerster LLP, San Diego, CA

Facts & Allegations     In March 2006, plaintiffs' decedent Rick Voorhis, 53, perished in a plane crash in the Banning Pass between Los Angeles and Palm Springs that also killed a Cessna Aircraft Company pilot.  The Cessna pilot was a regional sales manager who brought the turbine-powered, single-engine utility airplane to the West Coast for demonstration to a series of customers.  Voorhis was in the left seat and the sales manager was in the right seat.  Voorhis was an outside sales representative specializing in that type of airplane.

Voorhis's widow and son sued Cessna, Thermal Self Serve Inc., Signature Flight Support Corporation, Million Air Interlink Inc., Million Air La Quinta, the County of Riverside, Deanna Webb and La Quinta FBO Two LLC.  (Thermal Self Serve, Signature Flight, Million Air, Riverside County, Webb and La Quinta FBO were let ouf of the case prior to trial.  The case went to trial against Cessna.)

The plaintiffs alleged piloting negligence and strict products liability on the design of the aircraft, but they dropped all the claims except for piloting negligence.

Plaintiffs' counsel argued that the Cessna pilot was completely responsible for the flight's failure because he filed the flight plan.  The lawyers also argued that an inability to handle icing conditions caused the plane to stall, spin and plummet to the ground.

Cessna argued that there was no ice accumulation.  The lawyers contended that Voorhis was controlling the plane and overreacted to danger warnings of approaching rising terrain from an onboard system and from air traffic controllers.  Voorhis became overcome by panic, they claimed, rolled the aircraft over, became disoriented in the weather conditions and flew into the ground.

Injuries/Damages death; loss of society
Voorhis lost his life.
His survivors -- widow Marsha Voorhis and son Nathan Voorhis -- asked the jury for $37 million in economic damages and $40 million in noneconomic damages for wrongful death.
Cessna contended that economic damages should be no more than $6 million.

The jury found for the defense.

$75,000,000, according to defense counsel

$5,000,000, statutory, according to defense counsel

Global Aerospace

Trial Details    
Trial Length: 6 weeks
Trial Deliberations:  70 minutes
Jury Vote: 11-1

Plaintiff Expert(s)    
Jay Rosenthal, M.A., C.C.M., meteorology/climatology, Pacific Palisades, CA
William E. Simpson, C.P.A., CPAs, Los Angeles, CA
Donald E. Sommer, aircraft, Denver, CO

Defense Expert(s)    
David E. Bloom, Ph.D., economics, Boston, MA
Terry Heaslip, flight plan reconstruction,
Tom Jordan, aviation, (commercial pilot)
Tommy McFall, pilot performance/error, Southlake, TX
Bob Rice, aviation, (flight test/icing)
Wayne Sand, weather, Boston, MA
Michael Selig, aerodynamics, Urbana, IL

Motions for a new trial and JNOV were denied, but a motion to tax some costs was granted, according to defense counsel.

Editor's Note    
This report is based on informations that was provided by plaintiffs' counsel and defense counsel.