Guatemala Crash Settlement Agreement

Slack Davis Sanger attorneys have reached an agreement with the remaining defendants to settle claims arising from an August 24, 2008, crash of a Cessna Caravan in Guatemala.

The plane was carrying volunteers on a humanitarian mission to build a school in a remote area of Guatemala. The engine failed during cruise flight and the aircraft was destroyed during the emergency landing and subsequently caught fire. Of the 12 passengers, nine of whom were fatally injured, Slack Davis Sanger represents the families of seven deceased passengers and two surviving passengers.

A lawsuit filed by the passengers in the 68th District Court, Dallas County, Texas, was brought against the Guatemalan aircraft operator, Aereo Ruta Maya, as well as the engine manufacturer, Pratt & Whitney of Canada and Dallas Airmotive, which had performed major engine maintenance. In December 2010, Judge Martin Hoffman approved a settlement of all passenger claims with Aereo Ruta Maya. Some of the unique challenges related to this settlement were discussed in the November 29, 2010, issue of Texas Lawyer.

Litigation continued against Pratt & Whitney and Dallas Airmotive. At the time of the crash, the failed engine was part of a Pratt & Whitney overhaul escalation program in which Aereo Ruta Maya had been afforded four overhaul escalations between 2003 and 2007, based upon periodic examinations of three of its fleet of PT6A-114A engines. Because it was a part of the Aereo Ruta Maya engine fleet participating in the escalation program, the overhaul time on the failed engine had been increased from its basic design overhaul limit of 3,600 hours to 5,600 hours. The engine failed with slightly over 5,300 hours of total time. As a result of the escalation program, the failed engine had never been overhauled. Its last major inspection had been performed in July 2005 in Guatemala by Dallas Airmotive at a total time of around 3,800 hours.

Plaintiffs contended that the overhaul extension program offered by Pratt & Whitney was not based upon a sufficient technical foundation to warrant significant increases of time before overhaul, and thereby subjected fleet engines to an enhanced risk of failure by reducing the frequency and quality of major engine inspections. Also at issue was the commercial availability of an enhanced compressor turbine blade design which was much more robust and resistant to metallurgical degradation in extended overhaul operating environments. As to Dallas Airmotive, plaintiffs argued that it was aware of the problems with component failures in the “hot sections” of -114A engines and failed to properly advise, instruct and act on the information at its disposal. A copy of the Plaintiff’s Seventh Amended Original Petition is available for review.

Judge Hoffman has set a hearing on April 18, 2011, to review the settlement as to minor children who lost parents in the crash.

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