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.