The Minnesota Supreme Court voted 4-2 on Wednesday to uphold an earlier appellate court’s ruling that found Cirrus not liable for a 2003 crash that killed two men flying in a Cirrus SR22 to see their sons play in a hockey tournament.
The ruling is the final decision in a lengthy legal battle that began when the families of the two men sued the Duluth, Minnesota-based manufacturer for negligence, maintaining Cirrus did not provide appropriate pilot training that could have prevented the crash.
The accident took place in January 2003, shortly after 47-year-old pilot Gary Prokop and 51-year-old passenger James Kosak took off in marginal VFR conditions. At the time of the crash, Prokop had only 19 hours in the SR22, and while working on his instrument rating, was only VFR certified.
The NTSB’s accident report found that the single-engine piston aircraft went down in a wooded area after Prokop entered instrument conditions. The families of the victims, however, maintained that Cirrus should have provided training on how to use the airplane’s autopilot to fly safely in such a circumstance.
In 2009 a lower court ruled in favor of that viewpoint, finding Cirrus 75 percent liable for the crash and ordering the company to pay the family $14.4 million for its negligence.
An appeals court ruling in April 2011 overturned the ruling, stating Cirrus had no obligation to provide proficiency training for the Cirrus SR22.
The Minnesota Supreme Court’s recent ruling took the same stance.
“The duty to warn has never before required a supplier or manufacturer to provide training, only accurate and thorough instructions on the safe use of the product, as Cirrus has done here,” wrote Justice G. Barry Anderson.