NYC jury: Plane-maker not at fault in Lidle crash

A Minnesota airplane manufacturer isn’t responsible for the
deaths of New York Yankees pitcher Cory Lidle and his flight
instructor, who were killed when their small plane crashed into a
Manhattan apartment building, a jury concluded Tuesday.

The Manhattan jury returned its verdict after three hours of
deliberation, ending a one-month trial that featured testimony by
Lidle’s widow and from a retired space shuttle astronaut who was
called by Duluth, Minn.-based Cirrus Design Corp. to support its
contention that pilot error was to blame. The National
Transportation Safety Board had made the same finding, though that
was not permitted to be introduced in court.

The families of Lidle and instructor Tyler Stanger insisted the
plane went down in October 2006 because its flight controls
jammed.

The verdict came one day after Patrick Bradley, a lawyer for the
company, told jurors: ”It is wrong and it is unfair to blame
someone else for something they did not do.”

Hunter Shkolnik, the families’ attorney, had asked the jury to
award more than $40 million to Lidle’s family and $3.5 million to
Stanger’s survivors, based on the amount of money both men would
have earned in the future. Lidle, who was 34, died just days after
his baseball season ended. Stanger was 26.

Lidle and Stanger took a sightseeing trip around the Statue of
Liberty in Lidle’s Cirrus SR-20 when they flew up the East River,
where there is limited space to roam because of restrictions
related to three major international airports in the New York City
area. The plane struck a 550-foot-tall building on the Upper East
Side.

In his closing argument, Bradley said the pilots did not leave
enough room to make the turn and flew too low, at only half the
height of the Empire State Building. He said the men managed to
recover from a stall and went around a building and ”then right in
front of it was the condominiums.”

”There were no choices for these pilots,” he told jurors.
”The aircraft crash at that time was tragically a foregone
conclusion.”

Shkolnik argued that the plane was manufactured with defects
that the company knew of and failed to warn its customers
about.

”What happened here is there was a defect in the plane and it
lost control,” he said.

After the verdict, Shkolnik asked U.S. District Judge Barbara
Jones to set aside the jury’s findings. She set a schedule for
written submissions.

Shkolnik told The Associated Press that the jury result was
predictable because the judge refused to allow jurors to hear that
the company revised its manufacturing process after the crash to
prevent the flight controls from getting jammed. She also had ruled
that they could not hear that a flight instructor had a lockup of
flight controls and almost crashed in a similar plane.

Melanie Lidle cried as she left the courtroom.

”They’re devastated,” Shkolnik said of the wives.

Bill King, Cirrus’ vice president of business administration,
said the company was gratified with the verdict.

”Our hearts are with the Lidle and Stanger families who are
still grieving,” he said in a statement.