(CN) – Two flight specialists are not responsible for the plane-crash deaths of two Minnesota men, because they properly warned the pilot about low visibility, the 8th Circuit found.
Amateur pilot Gary Prokop and his passenger James Kosak were killed on a private flight in January 2003. The men were flying to their sons’ early morning hockey game when Prokop’s private plane began to act erratically after takeoff.
Their trustees, Thomas Gartland and Rick Glorvigen, sued plane maker Cirrus Design Corp., claiming substandard aircraft design and pilot training.
Cirrus then sued two flight service station (FSS) specialists, accusing them of failing to warn the pilot that the weather conditions weren’t safe.
The United States, as representative for the two federal employees, moved for summary judgment, arguing that even if the employees had acted negligently, they did not cause the plane crash. The district court ruled for the specialists, and Cirrus appealed.
A three-judge panel in St. Louis found that the specialists were not at fault for the deaths, because they properly warned Prokop about low visibility before takeoff.
Prokop had been trained to fly only when visibility was high, but he took off before dawn, while it was still dark, the court noted. Thus, the specialists didn’t breach any duty of care under Minnesota law, the panel concluded.
“Although an FSS specialist must provide ‘accurate and complete’ weather information, a specialist does not need to recite verbatim the contents of every weather report before him,” wrote Chief Judge David Ebel of the 10th Circuit, who was designated to sit on the 8th Circuit panel.
The judges upheld the lower court’s grant of summary judgment for the government and order remanding the remaining issues to the Minnesota state courts.