Posted on Sep 03, 2006
Jury awards $3.2 million in damages for Grand Canyon crash
Jury awards $3.2 million in damages for Grand Canyon crash LAS VEGAS (AP) - A jury has awarded $3.2 million in damages to a woman whose daughter died in a Grand Canyon helicopter crash that killed six others, including a pilot known for leading wild sightseeing tours.
Attorneys for Ikuko Hatano - whose daughter, Makiko, died in the 2003 crash - said the Clark County jury's verdict against Las Vegas-based tour operator Sundance Helicopters proves that Sundance was negligent in the crash.
"My client is extremely happy," attorney Michael Ely said Friday. "It's a fair, right and just result."
The jury chose not to impose punitive damages against the company that could have resulted in a larger verdict.
Gregory Miles, an attorney for the company, could not be reached for comment Saturday.
He has said previously that the company has an outstanding safety record.
Makiko Hatano took a helicopter ride with five other tourists and pilot Takashi Mezaki on Sept. 20, 2003. Authorities believe the helicopter's blade gouged the wall of the canyon, leading the aircraft smashed to the ground and burst into flames. All seven on board were killed.
In a nearly two-week trial in the courtroom of District Judge David Wall, attorneys for Hatano said Mezaki had a history of reckless flying. They said Sundance failed to fire the pilot for the reckless behavior.
"The National Transportation Safety Board did interviews with passengers from prior flights, and these passengers told of some pretty wild rides," Ely said.
According to Hatano's attorneys, an administrator with a Las Vegas aviation company once got on a flight with Mezaki and was given a thrill ride. He notified Sundance about the flight and Mezaki was suspended, but the suspension never was imposed formally.
The attorneys also said that at least one other passenger had complained about Mezaki's flying before the crash. These issues resonated with the jury, said Hatano family attorney Carolyn Ellsworth, who spoke with jurors afterward.
"They absolutely felt the pilot was reckless," Ellsworth said. "They also felt that although Sundance was negligent in the supervision and retention of their pilot, the malice wasn't sufficient to come back with punitive damages."
The National Transportation Safety Board has yet to issue a formal finding as to the cause of the crash.
Attorneys for Sundance said a helicopter phenomenon commonly called jack stall or servo transparency was to blame for the crash. The phenomenon involves a temporary loss of control of the aircraft because of a problem with the hydraulic system.
The crash was the second in two years for Las Vegas helicopter companies that offer aerial tours. In 2001, a Papillon helicopter accident killed six people near Meadview, Ariz.
The NTSB blamed that pilot error in that crash. A settlement reached in December on behalf of crash victim Chana Daskal totaled $38 million.
Information from: Las Vegas Review-Journal, http://www.lvrj.com