2010-05-12 / News

Dominion Aviation feels exonerated by NTSB report

Local firm is one of many being sued following 2008 plane crash
By Greg Pearson

Dominion Aviation Services, the company that runs fixed-based operations at the Chesterfield Airport, says it’s not at fault for a 2008 plane crash, citing a National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) report that appears to clear the company of any wrongdoing. Last month, four lawsuits were filed in Chesterfield Circuit Court as a result of the April 27, 2008, crash that demolished Christine Bowen’s house on Woodsong Drive and severely injured her sister, Melissa Bowen, then 22. Melissa suffered severe burns from the fire that ignited after the plane’s impact, and the family’s dog and 10 new puppies perished in the inferno.

Melissa is asking for $10 million in compensatory damages and $1 million in punitive damages plus her costs and pre-judgment and post-judgment interest. Christine’s suit asks for $200,000 in compensatory damages plus her costs and pre-judgment and post-judgment interest.

Two additional lawsuits have been filed by Michelle C. Harmon, administrator of Joseph A. Grana III’s estate, against many of the same defendants named in the Bowen suits. Grana was piloting the plane at the time of the crash. Harmon is claiming express and/or implied warranty breaches, negligence and fraud, and is seeking a judgment of $20 million, punitive damages of $350,000 and pre-judgment and post-judgment interest and attorneys fees and costs.

Dominion is one of a long list of defendants named in the four lawsuits. Most of the defendants are out of state.

“The airplane was flown that same day to [the Chesterfield Airport], arriving uneventfully; no maintenance was performed to the airplane while at [the Chesterfield Airport],” reads the NTSB report.

“We weren’t asked to do any maintenance on the aircraft, but we did refuel it,” said Mike Mickel, president/CEO of Dominion.

“The fuel facility did not report any problems by owners or pilots of other airplanes fueled from the same source,” reads the NTSB report.

“We took fuel samples and have impeccable records and tested the fuel from the trucks,” added Mickel. “We fueled 38 airplanes that day from that [fuel] truck, and none of them reported any problems. We are getting sued for working on a plane that we did no maintenance on.”

That’s not how Ted Allen, a partner with the personal injury law firm of Allen, Allen, Allen & Allen, sees it. He represents the Bowen sisters.

“There are a lot of facts yet to be determined, and so we’ll be continuing our investigation by way of discovery…subpoenaing documents and taking depositions of witnesses because a lawsuit has been filed,” he said. “That information will help us determine why things happened the way they did.”

Allen declined comment on the specifics of the suit.

Joe Owen, a partner in the Midlothian law firm of Owen & Owens, agreed to weigh in on the suit, but cautioned he didn’t have any direct knowledge of the crash or the lawsuit.

“The NTSB is a [federal] investigative agency, but its report is not binding,” Owen explained. “Experts hired by the plaintiffs and ultimately by the defendants may reach different conclusions.”

“Generally in airplane cases, the plaintiff will name everybody [as defendants] who has come in contact with that plane prior to the crash,” he added.

Two of the 25 companies and individuals named as defendants are the Mooney Airplane Company and Mooney Aerospace Group Limited of Kerrville, Texas. They designed, built, marketed and sold the plane.

It is not uncommon in such cases to have cross claims filed – defendants suing each other, alleging the blame lies with other companies. Asked if defendants, even though they don’t believe they are at fault, offer compensation to the plaintiffs as the least expensive option, Owen replied, “That often occurs.”

The Bowen suits allege breach of express and implied warranties and negligence on the part of some defendants, and only negligence against others. Among the allegations are that the crashed aircraft had a troubled service history that was concealed when the aircraft was sold to the company who owned it at the time of the accident; that it contained parts, including two access autopilot/flight directors with a history of malfunctions and that defendants were aware of this before the crash occurred; that some parts were “negligently and wrongfully designed, manufactured and marketed” or wrongly overhauled, rebuilt and re-installed into the aircraft; and that the aircraft was repeatedly inspected by those who failed to find defects, or report or remedy them.

Honeywell, which has two locations in Chester and other local offices, is also named as a defendant for allegedly providing faulty autopilot and other instruction parts for the plane.

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