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On June 7, 2001, Lawson’s parents filed a tort claim with the State of Oklahoma’s Office of Risk Management Administration, the first step in the legal process towards a lawsuit. In the claim, Lawson’s parents stated that the University was negligent in its behavior, specifically in its failure to secure, maintain, and inspect the plane. In addition, the claim states that the University failed to “take reasonable steps to promulgate adequate rules and regulations regarding the use of aircraft.”
In July 2002, five families filed a wrongful death civil suit against the owner of the airplane, North Bay Charter, LLC, Lindell Jean Mills, personal representative of the estate of deceased pilot Denver Mills, Raytheon Aircraft Company, and Marathon Power Technologies Company in the district court of Oklahoma County.
Marathon Power Technologies Company was named in the lawsuit because our company rebuilt the plane’s two electrical inverters as part of a routine refurbishment of the mechanisms. Such inverters convert DC power to AC power for some of the aircraft’s flight instruments and lights.
It was claimed that the King Air’s inverters had become inoperable during flight, with the possibility of one inverter being inoperable before the twin-engine aircraft lifted off. Marathon’s attorney, Tom Elder, disputed these claims and stated, “The 25-year-old aircraft still could have had some DC-powered instruments and vacuum-operated instruments if the inverters failed.”
According to a National Transportation Safety Board report in 2003, pilot error was likely the cause of the 2001 plane crash which killed eight members of the Oklahoma State basketball program.
The crash was caused after some of the plane’s instruments malfunctioned after an electrical problem, but states that pilot Denver Mills, who also perished in the crash, failed to use backup instruments which could have allowed the plane to land safely.
After two years of expensive attorney battles and various news reports, mediation was sought by the plaintiff’s at the close of discovery in an approach at attempting a settlement of their case. During mediation Marathon’s defense position remained relatively strong, considering the weight of the aircraft’s AC power. Our attorney used the term singular inverter in the preceding sentence because plaintiffs have not been able to establish that the left inverter contained any defective component or malfunctioned. Therefore, there is nothing regarding that inverter which would cause the loss of a second source of aircraft power, if the right side inverter was indeed the cause of a power interruption.
The two Marathon inverters are redundant aircraft power systems in which any one will power the instruments. Just as important is the point that the aircraft has backup attitude instruments, which did not require any alternating current power or inverter input for that matter. The Plaintiffs argued that the distraction alone caused by a selected inverter’s inability to provide alternation current power contributed 1% to the pilot’s losing control of the aircraft and was therefore a participating concurrent contributing cause in the crash sequence under Oklahoma law. Marathon advised our lawyers to offer a $1,030,000 payment to cover the “vagaries of the legal system” and this settlement was accepted closing Marathon’s portion of the litigation in both Texas and Oklahoma. Mediation is different from other forms of dispute resolution because it is not a hearing designed to determine who wins or loses.
Rather, it is a facilitated conference during which parties search for mutually agreeable solutions. Although mediation is less formal than a trial or hearing, it is still a legal proceeding guided by rules. Mediation can be very successful because it is a voluntary and confidential way to resolve disputes without giving the decision-making power to someone else. The mediation process involves sitting down with the other side in the dispute and a third-party who is neutral and impartial. The mediator helps the parties identify the important issues in the dispute and decide how they can resolve these issues themselves. The mediator does not tell either party what to do, or make a judgment about who is right or wrong. Control over the outcome of the case stays with the parties.
I believe the decision for mediation was beneficial to both the plaintiff’s and Marathon Power Technologies Company because it enacted prompt resolution of disputes, both parties have control of outcome through communication, no need for extensive discovery, parties participate in the problem- solving process, and a more cost-effective process.
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