FLORIDA jury returns $480 million verdict against Cessna in 1989 plane crash

Friday, August 17th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

PENSACOLA, Fla. (AP) _ Cessna Aircraft Co. was responsible for a fiery plane crash that injured three people in 1989, a jury ruled in returning a record $480 million verdict against the company.

Plaintiffs lawyers said the verdict _ including $400 million in punitive damages and $80 million in compensatory damages _ is the largest in aviation history.

Plaintiffs claimed the crash was caused by a defective seat latching mechanism. The suit alleged the pilot's seat suddenly slid back as he was attempting to land and caused the nose to pitch up because he had the control yoke in his grasp.

The single-engine Cessna 185 then crashed and burned in a small clearing amid thick woods 75 yards from the runway at Coastal Airport, a small Pensacola landing strip.

``Virtually everybody who's ever flown a Cessna at least has had a seat slip of their own or has heard of a friend who has had a seat slip,'' Arthur Alan Wolk, one of the plaintiffs' lawyers, said in an interview.

Cessna lawyers argued the seat did not slip and denied the locking mechanism was defective. They blamed the crash on pilot error, noting that James Cassoutt had little experience or instruction in flying the 185.

Wolk said no other aviation verdict comes close to this one, but that Cessna lawyers told him they would appeal the Wednesday verdict.

The plaintiffs were Cassoutt, his wife, Cindy, and passenger Judy Kealey.

Cindy Cassoutt suffered third-degree burns over half her body, according to the suit. Her husband and Kealey were burned less seriously but Kealey also suffered a broken back, Wolk said.

Cessna, based in Wichita, Kan., is a subsidiary of Textron Inc.