$13 Million Judgment Against Mechanic For Crash


A California jury has awarded $13,360,000 to the family of a Napa doctor who died in the crash of his Cessna 182 in 2009, citing negligence and false representation on the part of the mechanic who had signed out the aircraft’s annual inspection days before the crash. The jury found that mechanic Faride Khalaf had earlier made improper repairs to the pilot seat track mechanism and lied about it to Dr. Kenneth Gottlieb, who was 67 at the time of his death. It was also alleged at the trial that the annual consisted only of an oil change and that no inspections were carried out. Although the NTSB ruled that pilot error caused the crash, Mike Danko, the lawyer for the family, said he was able to show the jury that Dr. Gottlieb lost control of the plane moments after takeoff when the seat slid to the fully aft position and jammed as a result of an earlier “jury rigged” repair by Khalaf. “The faulty repair held up for a while, but failed just as Gottlieb took off, causing the seat to slide back and jam in place,” Danko said in a summary of the case on his website Aviation Law Monitor. Danko said he told the jury that if Khalaf had done a proper annual inspection, he might have discovered his earlier repair was about to fail. AVweb attempted to contact Khalaf through his website but he did not respond immediately.

Gottlieb, a current and experienced IFR pilot, took off in IMC (600 foot ceiling, visibility 10 miles) in darkness on Aug. 5, 2009. He’d had an IFR proficiency check a few days prior and had done the same flight many times in the past. Rather than follow the runway heading for six miles as cleared, the aircraft immediately turned left to an easterly heading before hitting terrain about a mile south of the airport. The NTSB determined that “loss of situational awareness” and “failure to follow the prescribed instrument departure clearance/procedure” caused the accident. But Danko said his firm’s examination of the wreckage found the fully retracted seat and unclipped seatbelt and theorized that Gottlieb spent his final moments trying to crawl forward to take back the control yoke. Khalaf represented himself at the trial after his lawyer quit and there’s no word yet on whether there will be an appeal. Danko said the award is the largest ever in California for the death of someone older than 65 years.