Pensacola, Fla. A $480 million verdict for an airplane crash is the nation's fourth-largest product-liability award to individual plaintiffs, although class actions have resulted in numerous larger awards, a legal newspaper reported Friday.
A Pensacola jury on Thursday assessed $400 million in punitive damages against Cessna Aircraft Co. after awarding $80 million in compensatory damages the day before to three people who were burned and suffered other injuries in the 1989 crash of a single-engine Cessna 185.
"Once again, we're seeing a jury trying to regulate an entire industry with a lot of zeros in its verdict, as opposed to merely compensating a person for an accident," said Tom Harrison, publisher of Boston-based Lawyers Weekly USA, in a news release.
The plaintiffs claimed the plane crashed while circling to land at a small Pensacola airstrip because a seat latching device failed. The seat moved back suddenly with the pilot gripping the control yoke, causing the nose to rise and the plane to stall, according to the suit.
A lawyer for Cessna, based in Wichita, said in court that the Textron Inc. subsidiary would appeal the verdict but declined comment afterward.
"If you took a human being and skinned them, that's what we looked like," said the plane's pilot, Jim Cassoutt, of Robertsdale, Ala. "I don't want anyone else to go through what we did because of a stupid seat slippage."
His wife, Cindy, and Judy Kealey Diaz, of Pensacola, also were hurt in the crash.
The plaintiffs were represented by a team of lawyers that included Pensacola's Fred Levin, who also played a key role in helping Florida obtain a $13 billion tobacco settlement.