The case In re Hudson River Mid-Air Collision on August 8, 2009, is a major lawsuit that arose as a result of a midair collision between Liberty Eurocopter and a Piper aircraft on August 8, 2009. The Piper aircraft which was owned by a partnership between David Altman, LCA, and Stephen Vineberg was subsequently leased to two pilots one of whom was the son of David Altman (one of the partners). Initially purchased in 1976 by Michael Chiodo, the aircraft was sold but later repurchased by the owner under a company known as LCA. In the year 1996, the LCA Corporation was purchased by David Altman who subsequently became the owner of the aircraft. DA Aero, Inc. was later formed and he became a partner and the main shareholder under mutual terms of the agreement.
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The terms of partnership agreed by the owners stipulated that the pilots were not only responsible for the maintenance and operation of the aircraft but were also in charge of its related expenses. The case was filed at a New Jersey federal district court. The only responsibility of LCA under the agreement was the provision and maintenance of the insurance of the aircraft. On December 4, 2009, the representatives of the estates of the victims who died in the Liberty Eurocopter filed a claim against the owners and partners of negligent entrustment of the Piper aircraft and dangerous instrumentality. The defendants who included LCA corporation which owned the aircraft and its two co-partners namely David Altman and DA Aero Inc. argued that the claims of the plaintiff were precluded by 49 U.S.C. § 44112. The statute preempts any state law claims and precludes liability for an owner who was not in control at the time of the crash.
List of Issues
The legal issues at stake in the case were as listed below:
- The first issue was whether the owners of the leased Piper aircraft were liable for compensating the representatives of the estates of the victims who died in the helicopter. The charge was on the grounds of negligent entrustment and dangerous instrumentality.
- Another important issue was for the court to determine whether the owner of the aircraft exercised control over the aircraft to remove his eligibility for liability limitation as provided by a federal statute.
Negligent entrustment refers to a major cause of action in tort law. It arises when one party (entrustor) is found to be liable for negligence for having provided the other party (entrustee) with a dangerous instrument which subsequently causes injury or death to a third party. In this case, the plaintiffs argued that the defendant negligently entrusted the aircraft to the pilots. However, the 49 U.S.C. § 44112 statute provides an express limitation on the owner’s liability if it is established that they were not directly in control of the aircraft at the time of the incident.
Furthermore, the state laws of Pennsylvania and New Jersey where the aircraft was operating, require that any claim of negligent entrustment should be premised on proof. In this case, the plaintiffs had to ascertain that the owner assigned the aircraft to the other party when they knew they were likely to create an unreasonable risk to others. In this regard, the defendants are not liable for compensating the representatives of the estates of the victims on the grounds of negligent entrustment and dangerous instrumentality. This is because the owner of the aircraft was neither directly in control of the aircraft but also did not knowingly anticipate that the pilots would use the accident.
Rule of Court Applying
The court ruled that the defendants were eligible for liability limitation as provided by a 49 U.S.C. § 44112 statute since they did not exercise any control on the aircraft at the time of the accident. Additionally, the claims of negligent entrustment could not be granted. There was no evidence presented in the court which showed that the owner of the aircraft (Mr. David Altman) knew that the pilot would cause unreasonable harm to others or act negligently.
Own Opinion and Conclusion
In my opinion, the decision of the court to reject the plaintiffs’ negligent entrustment claim was justifiable as it was consistent with the provisions of both the 49 U.S.C. § 44112 statutes. The ruling is also consistent with the laws of Pennsylvania and New Jersey where the aircraft was operating that required any claim of negligent entrustment should be grounded on proof. The owner did not know that the pilot would cause unreasonable harm to others or act negligently. However, I strongly believe the defendant should be held liable to compensate the plaintiff under the principles of ownership liability. This is particularly because it was proven that the pilot was affiliated with the partnership and ownership of the aircraft. Although the owner was not directly in control of the aircraft at the time of the accident, the court ought to have granted the plaintiffs compensation based on the principles of ownership liability.
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