State Supreme Court agrees that Cirrus manuals were adequate in lieu of a flight lesson.
The Minnesota Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that a Duluth-based aircraft manufacturer had no legal duty to provide training for a pilot who died along with a passenger in a 2003 crash.
The 4-2 decision upholds last year's Appeals Court ruling that reversed a $16.4 million award that Cirrus Design Corp. and the University of North Dakota Aerospace Foundation were ordered to pay to the families of pilot Gary Prokop and passenger James Kosak.
Jurors in Itasca County had found that co-defendants Cirrus and UND, which contracted with Cirrus to provide pilot training, were negligent. They awarded Kosak's family $7.4 million and Prokop's family $12 million, an award that was reduced to $9 million when Prokop was found to be 25 percent liable.
The Appeals Court reversed the award, ruling that Cirrus owed no such training duty. The Supreme Court agreed, saying that manuals and a handbook on how to use the plane's autopilot function met the company's obligations.
"The duty to warn has never before required a supplier or manufacturer to provide training, only accurate and thorough instructions on the safe use of the product, as Cirrus has done here," Justice G. Barry Anderson wrote.
Prokop, 47, and Kosak, 51, left Hill City, Minn., on Jan. 18, 2003, for St. Cloud to watch their sons play in a hockey tournament. The plane crashed shortly after takeoff, and the families blamed Cirrus and UND, alleging that they provided inadequate pilot training.
Prokop, who had received his pilot's license in 2001, bought the single-engine Cirrus SR22 a month before the crash after about two years of piloting a Cessna, a plane with markedly different features. The more sophisticated and powerful Cirrus came with a two-day owner training program and flight manuals.
Prokop received the training, but the family claims he did not receive a lesson on how to escape bad weather by using the autopilot. Prokop became disoriented in poor visibility when the plane crashed.
In his dissent, Justice Paul Anderson wrote that the jury's verdict should stand. He stated that the training manuals alone provided inadequate warning because it did not include the flight lesson Prokop failed to receive.
Further, he wrote, Cirrus made a promise as part of the plane's purchase to provide the flight lesson. He expressed concerns that the high court's decision could have far-reaching consequences.
Abby Simons 612-673-4921