A Cook County jury has ordered a Florida-based cargo airline to pay the families of three aircraft crew members who died in an airplane crash while transporting armored vehicles in Afghanistan a combined award of more than $115 million.
On Friday, June 30, attorneys with the Nolan Law Group, of Chicago, who represented the families of crew members Jamie Brokaw and Jeremy Lipka, confirmed the jury’s verdict, which had been rendered Thursday evening.
The estate of crew member Brad Hasler, who were also included in the verdict award, was represented by attorneys with the firm of Katzman, Lampert & McClune, of Troy, Mich.
The verdict ended the trial in the litigation against defendant National Air Cargo over the April 29, 2013, crash of a Boeing 747 which had been transporting a load of mine resistant ambush protected (MRAP) personnel transport vehicles from Bagram Air Field in Afghanistan to Dubai.
According to the Nolan Law release, the armored vehicles – each weighing 12-18 tons - which were owned by the U.S. Marine Corps, were scheduled to be shipped from Dubai to California, under a contract between National Airlines and the U.S. Department of Defense. NAC had been contracted by National Airlines to fly the vehicles on the first leg of their journey
Reports indicated the craft, shortly after takeoff, appeared to list and stall before crashing near the base, killing all aboard.
Reports said Lipka, the pilot, was at the controls at the time of the crash. Brokaw, also a pilot, was serving as navigator. Hasler, also a pilot, served as a member of the flight crew. Also killed in the crash were the craft’s first officer, Rinku Summan, mechanics Gary Stockdale and Timothy M. Garrett, and loadmaster Michael Sheets.
Later in 2013, the estates of the most of the slain crew members filed suit in Cook County Circuit Court against National Air Cargo, as well as Chicago-based Boeing and air cargo transport equipment manufacturer Telair International, and others, alleging liability for the fatal crash.
Cook County records indicate separate lawsuits by the estates of Summan, Stockdale and Garrett remain pending in circuit court.
The lawsuits alleged the plane was overburdened, as the.” plane could, at most, safely transport just one 12-ton vehicle. Further, the lawsuits alleged the restraints used to keep the vehicles in place were “insufficient” and “in poor condition.”
Shortly after takeoff, restraints failed, sending an armored vehicle through the plane’s tail, damaging the plan badly enough to make it unflyable.
NAC had initially attempted to remove the case to federal court, arguing a federal judge should hear the case, as the company had been transporting military vehicles at the behest of the U.S. Defense Department.
U.S. District Judge Ruben Castillo, however, returned the case to Cook County jurisdiction, saying the liability questions weren’t a federal concern, regardless of the Armed Forces involvement.
“Simply because the federal government had some general oversight over (the flight) does not mean NAC was acting under the authority of a federal officer for the purposes of Plaintiff’s claims,” Judge Castillo had written in an Oct. 25, 2015, opinion remanding the case.
According to the Nolan Law release, Hasler’s family received $47.25 million; Brokaw’s family will receive $43 million; and Lipka’s estate was awarded $25.5 million.
The verdict did not include consideration of attorney fees, Nolan Law said.
“The jury’s verdict sent a message that our society still values human life and safety over the pursuit of increased corporate profit,” attorney Donald Nolan, of Nolan Law, said in a prepared statement.