Jury awards millions to families in Cirrus suit
An Itasca County (Minn.) jury has determined that the UND Aerospace Foundation and Cirrus Design Corp. are partly negligent in a crash that killed two Grand Rapids, Minn., men six years ago.
The jury awarded more than $16 million -- originally more than $19 million -- to the families of the two men who died in a crash of a Cirrus airplane near Hill City, Minn.
Pilot Gary Prokop and passenger James Kosak died in the Jan. 18, 2003, crash.
Prokop also was found negligent in the crash. Cirrus and the UND Aerospace Foundation each were found to be 37.5 percent negligent and Prokop was 25 percent negligent in the cause of the crash.
Jurors awarded Prokop's family $6 million for loss of counsel, guidance, aid, advice, comfort, assistance, protection and companionship they experienced as a result of his death and $6 million for economic losses, which would include past and future wages lost. Because the pilot was found to be 25 percent negligent, the award will be reduced to $9 million.
Kosak's family was awarded $6 million for loss of counsel, guidance, aid, advice, comfort, assistance, protection and companionship and $1.4 million for economic losses.
The plaintiffs alleged the pilot was negligent and that Cirrus Design Corp. and the UND Aerospace Foundation were negligent for not adequately training him.
Bill King, vice president of operations for Cirrus, said the company was disappointed and surprised by the verdict and is investigating its options. He declined to comment on what those options might be.
Chuck Pineo, executive vice president of the UND Aerospace Foundation issued this statement to the Herald on Friday:
"Our thoughts remain with the families involved. We are contemplating our legal options as we continue to believe that the experienced management and training provided by UNDAF during the period in question as well as the present time continues to be of the highest quality."
The Kosaks sued Cirrus, Prokops' estate and the UND Aerospace Foundation. The Prokops sued Cirrus and the foundation.
A National Transportation Safety Board investigation had concluded that the probable cause of the accident was "disorientation experienced by the pilot, due to a lack of visual references, and a failure to maintain altitude." Weather conditions varied from mostly cloudy to clear, depending upon their location, the NTSB report said. Prokop had 248 hours of flight time -- 18.9 in the SR-22.
Daniel O'Fallon of the Robins, Kaplan, Miller and Ciresi law firm in Minneapolis represented the Kosak family. O'Fallon said Cirrus omitted required training necessary to sell the airplane to Prokop. He said the pilot didn't receive an "IFR Flight [non-rated]" lesson, which was part of the Cirrus training sold and promised to Prokop. Cirrus contracted with the UND Aerospace Foundation to provide the pilot training. The lawsuit contended that if the pilot had been provided the allegedly omitted training, he would have had critical information necessary to handle the conditions he faced on the morning of the crash.
King was asked the potential effect of the jury verdict on his company's operations. Cirrus also has a manufacturing plant in Grand Forks.
"It's certainly disappointing to us but we continue to operate as we had planned," he said. "We've got a lot of work to do. This is just one circumstance we have to face in the process of operating and we will continue on."
Prokop, 47, and Kosak, 51, both of Grand Rapids were flying in a Cirrus SR22 on their way to St. Cloud, Minn., to watch their sons play in a hockey tournament when the crash occurred south of Hill City, which is 18 miles south of Grand Rapids.
The seven-member jury deliberated about 4½ hours before returning the verdict Thursday night.