On July 5, 2011, a Bell County, Texas, district court judge entered judgment on a June 17, 2011, $6,820,000 jury verdict – the highest reported compensatory verdict issued in a wrongful death case in Bell County. The court awarded judgment in favor of the plaintiffs for the full amount of the jury’s damages award, minus a credit for a pre-trial settlement.
Airplane mechanic Larry Hagerman, of Pflugerville, Texas, was killed on April 10, 2008, when the door of a pressurized airplane opened explosively and struck his head. Mr. Hagerman was opening the door from the outside after the plane had landed at Taylor Municipal Airport. The airplane, a Hawker Beechcraft Corporation King Air model B200, was operated by Defendant Pumpco, Inc. and piloted by Defendant Albert Sidaras.
Slack Davis Sanger sued Hawker Beechcraft Corporation for negligence, claiming defective design of the aircraft’s depressurization system and other inadequate systems and procedures. They also sued operator Pumpco, Inc. and pilot Albert Sidaras for negligence in failing to depressurize the aircraft or warn Larry Hagerman that the aircraft was still pressurized.
The plaintiffs settled with Hawker Beechcraft Corporation before trial for $1,800,000.
In handing down the $6.82 million verdict to Mr. Hagerman’s two teenagers, the Belton, Texas, jury placed 80% of the responsibility on the aircraft operator. The settling party, Hawker Beechcraft Corporation, was found to have only 20% of the responsibility for negligence and defective design causing Mr. Hagerman’s death.
The case was tried against a settlement offer of $900,000 from the pilot/operator.
“The jury’s finding that Larry Hagerman was not negligent – and that the damages resulting from his death were substantial – validated our belief that this jury would be fair when asked to hear the evidence and measure the loss to his family and to this community,” said Mark Pierce of Slack Davis Sanger, L.L.P., lead trial counsel for the Hagerman family.
Pierce tried the case with Slack Davis Sanger’ name partner Michael Slack, an Austin attorney who is highly regarded nationally and internationally in aviation law. “With this decision, the jury made a clear and courageous statement on behalf of aviation safety,” Slack said.
Attorney Fletcher Rhodes of Temple, Texas, served as local counsel for the plaintiffs. Attorneys Robert Ruckman and James Struble of Jackson Walker L.L.P. (Dallas) represented the defendants along with their local counsel, John Francis.