Cirrus SR22 Crash Ruling Overturned

Appeals Court Nullifies Multi-Million-Dollar Verdict Against Cirrus Design Corp.

A Minnesota appeals court has reversed an earlier ruling that held Cirrus Design Corp. liable for a 2003 SR22 crash that killed two men on a trip to see their sons play in a hockey tournament. The new ruling nullifies the $14.4 million verdict awarded to the families of the two men by a jury of a lower court in 2009.

The crash occurred at dawn on Jan. 18, 2003, approximately eight minutes after pilot Gary Prokop, 47, and James Kosak, 51, took off in marginal VFR conditions in north west Minnesota. According to the NTSB, the Cirrus SR22 crashed into a heavily wooded area after the pilot encountered instrument conditions. Prokop was a VFR, single-engine land pilot working on his instrument rating. He had only 19 hours in an SR22 at the time of the incident.

The passenger’s estate sued both Cirrus and Prokop for negligence. Prokop’s estate also sued the Duluth-based manufacturer. The plaintiffs alleged that Cirrus had not provided sufficient training to Prokop, particularly with regard to the airplane’s autopilot system. The 2009 jury found Cirrus 75 percent negligent and Prokop 25 percent negligent.

In the recent Minnesota Court of Appeals ruling, the justices maintained that "although proficiency training undoubtedly promoted the safe use of the SR22 (model of airplane), we find no support in the law for (the) proposition that Cirrus's duty to warn included an obligation to train Prokop to proficiently pilot the SR22." Citing a state law created to prevent plaintiffs from suing for "educational malpractice," the court ruled that the lawsuit never should have been brought in the first place.

One judge dissented, maintaining that Cirrus was responsible for the pilot’s transition training because it was included in the SR22 purchasing agreement.