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Insurer Off the Hook |in Antique Plane Crash

(CN) - A Rixeyville, Va., man whose antique biplane was wrecked during an air show while another pilot was at the controls cannot seek damages from his insurer, a federal judge ruled.

John Corradi, a well-known pilot on the antique aircraft circuit, purchased a 1942 Waco UPF-7 aircraft in 1999, and since then has shown the plane - a World War II trainer -- on the Discovery Channel and in numerous competitions.

At one of those events, the 2002, Sun n' Fun Expo in Lakeland, Fla., he was named "Custom Antique Champion" at a gathering that drew some 5,000 aircraft.

But on June 29, 2014, while another pilot, Bryon Stewart was at the controls, the cream-colored aircraft suffered catastrophic engine failure and crashed.

The aircraft was a total loss, sustaining more than $200,000 in damage, and Corradi filed a claim with his insurer, the Old United Casualty Company.

However, in a complaint filed on April 14, 2015, Corradi said the insurer balked at paying his claim on the specious grounds that Stewart was not an "approved" pilot under its aircraft insurance policy.

Corradi contended this was not true, and as his case proceeded, a second consideration was raised -- whether the Virginia Omnibus Statute Section 38.2-2204, which only applies to third-party claims for liability, modified his policy by expanding coverage to first-party claims for damage.

But in a Dec. 8 ruling, U.S. District Judge Gerald Bruce Lee said that while the insurance policy in question does have exclusionary clauses for maintenance or test flights by an FAA-approved pilot at a licensed repair station, coverage related use of an insured plane in air shows is still limited to those named in the policy.

"Additionally, there is no language either amending the terms "your" or "approved pilots" or extending coverage to anyone other than "approved pilots" in the language of the policy," Lee wrote

Corradi argued that an "airshow extension" clause in the policy modified the rest of its provisions, and nullified the requirements than an "approved pilot" must be operating the aircraft at the time of the loss."

But Judge Lee, held the airshow clause only provides certain allowances and limitations that apply if the plaintiff participates in an air show.

"The Airshow Extension Endorsement clause does not change any other terms of the policy," Lee wrote. "Instead, it only amends the allowed usages of the aircraft, like participation in airshows, while the insured operates the Aircraft."

"In other words, although the Airshow Extension Clause extends coverage of the policy to FAA approved airshows, to actually recovery for damages occurring during an airshow, the aircraft must have been operated by an approved pilot when the damage occurred; adhering to the policy's requirement that the Aircraft is operated by 'Approved Pilots,'" the judge added.

That being case, Lee held that the Corradi's claims are barred by the plain language of the policy.

As to the second issue, the influences of the Virginia Omnibus Statute, Lee found that it did not modify the insurance policy coverage because the statute only applies to third-party claims for liability, and because Corradi "cannot assert a third-party claim for liability against himself in order to benefit from the protection of the statute."

Corradi is represented by Lee Robert Arzt, of Richmond, Va., who did not immediately respond to Courthouse News' email requesting comment.

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