California plane crash leaves man dead

Location: Los Angeles County, California

Plaintiff: Marshall D. Goldberg
Defendant: Mark T. Hogland
Amount: $5.5 million verdict
Economic Damages: $1 million
Non-economic Damages: $2 million
Other: $2.5 million in economic damages for Goldberg’s widow
Alleged Injuries: Negligence, willful misconduct, breach of fiduciary duty, fraud and wrongful death in the case of a plane crash that killed a man

Description: After a two-week trial, a California jury awarded $5.5 million to the widow and young children of a man killed in a plane crash on Santa Catalina Island off the coast of California.

Mark T. Hogland, owner of Skyblue USA LLC, claimed he had the necessary qualifications to fly his six-seat Beech A36 airplane to take the plaintiff on a scenic tour of Santa Catalina Island, a rocky island off the coast of California that was once a favored destination for Hollywood stars.  

But Hogland did not have the right credentials and made many mistakes that led to the tragic crash that day in February 2009. An aeronautics expert explained that:  

  • Hogland had a private pilot’s license, which allowed him to carry passengers but not for hire or compensation. To do that, he needed a commercial license, which involves a greater amount of requirements to earn. 
  • The airplane wasn't properly licensed because it hadn't had its annual inspection within the previous year as required by the FAA.
  • Hogland did not have an air taxi certificate that would have allowed him to fly a charter flight to Santa Catalina Island, or anywhere else for that matter.
  • He was flying in horrendous weather. The visibility at the airport was poor with very low clouds. Forecasts called for the possibility of thunderstorms, icing, strong winds, and a lot of turbulence. Hogland chose to fly anyway.
  • Hogland also chose to fly visually rather than using his instruments despite the risk posed by poor visibility.

The plane crashed into a mountain on Santa Catalina Island three minutes after takeoff.  The National Transportation Safety Board investigation report noted the airplane sustained substantial damage to the wings and a post-crash fire. Everyone on board died.

The plaintiff was only 39 years old and left behind two children.

The lawsuit was filed against the pilot, the airplane company, and the hotel through which the plaintiff booked the flight, but the jury found the pilot 100 percent at fault.

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