City of Lawrence agrees to pay $1,000 as part of settlement in lawsuit over alleged disrepair at Lawrence Municipal Airport
photo by: Submitted photo/Lloyd Hetrick
The City of Lawrence has agreed to pay $1,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by a longtime pilot who claimed the city hadn’t properly kept up some airport infrastructure, causing damage to an airplane.
Great Planes Inc., which operates an airplane hangar and offices at the airport on space leased from the city, filed the lawsuit in spring 2019 in Douglas County District Court. The lawsuit alleged that disrepair of the runway damaged one of the company’s airplanes in 2014 when a loose piece of the runway struck it, and that construction at the airport interfered with the company’s ability to access the runway. Great Planes claimed the city breached its contract with the company, and initially sought damages of about $19,000, plus interest and legal fees.
Following the damage, the lawsuit states that Great Planes submitted a claim to the city, including estimates for repair to the plane, but the parties were unable to come to a resolution. The city informed Great Planes that the pavement may need maintenance; however, the city could not find material missing from the tarmac of a sufficient size to cause the damage Great Planes indicated, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit argued that because of disrepair of the runway and “extended” construction projects that cut off Great Planes’ access to the runway, the city breached its contract in two ways: quiet enjoyment and good faith and fair dealing. The city argued against the two alleged contract breaches, saying that the lease agreement reserved with the city the right to develop, improve or maintain the runway and other public airport facilities “as it sees fit, regardless of the desires or view of the Lessee.”
After various motions in the case in 2020, a jury trial initially scheduled for November was canceled in September after the parties reached a settlement, according to Douglas County court records. A joint stipulation of dismissal was filed with the court on Jan. 15, and Judge Mark Simpson ordered the dismissal earlier this week with prejudice, meaning the case cannot be refiled.
The settlement agreement calls for the city to pay Great Planes Inc. $1,000, and for each party to pay their own costs, expenses and attorney fees. For its part, Great Planes agreed to dismiss the lawsuit against the city and that the payment constitutes a full settlement and compromise of all claims of damages.
The settlement agreement does not include any admission of liability, and states instead that it represents a compromise between the parties and not an admission of fault. The agreement notes “the parties jointly acknowledge that the claims and the lawsuit were and are vigorously disputed.”
Longtime pilot Stephen Craig is the owner of Great Planes Inc., according to court documents. Neither Craig nor his attorney, Matthew Donnelly, immediately responded to a voicemail from the Journal-World on Friday asking if they wanted to comment on the resolution of the case. City Attorney Toni Wheeler said only that the city was pleased the matter was resolved.
The city-operated airport, which is just outside Lawrence on U.S. Highway 24, serves recreational and business aircraft operators, according to the city’s website. The regional airport averages more than 100 daily flights of single-engine, twin-engine, business jets and helicopters. The city has owned and operated the airport since 1929.