Families lose plane crash lawsuit

Posted at 11:58 PM, Nov 14, 2012
and last updated 2012-11-15 06:54:48-05

CHESTERFIELD, Va. (WTVR) -- Inside the Chesterfield County home was 22-year-old Melissa Bowen, who was visiting her sister and helping with a litter of puppies.

The home literally exploded into flames around her at about 10:19 a.m. that day, April 27, 2008. She managed to run outside, suffering severe burns on her extremities.

Her sister, Christine, had just left the house to get something for a litter of 10 puppies. All those puppies and the mother were consumed by the raging fire.

The pilot, Joseph Anthony Grana III or Florham Park, N.J, and his father, Joseph Grana Jr. of Richmond, died at impact.

The home has been rebuilt. Melissa Bowen’s burns have largely healed.

The complex suits were brought by the Bowens for $10 million and the administrator for the Grana family for another $20 million in damages. It drew in a number of firms responsible for owning, building, maintaining, selling and certifying the prop driven aircraft, which some witnesses at the time reported being stalled or sputtering before the crash that April morning shortly after takeoff from the Chesterfield County Airport.

But another witness stated the engine was roaring and the plane flew straight into the house, with no apparent attempt to pull up from the dive.

A detailed description of the aircraft and crash by the NTSB can be read here:

The long jury trial that ended Wednesday largely boiled down to minute parts that make up the autopilot-flight direction system manufactured by Honeywell.

Evidence presented at the trial indicated the autopilot system on the aircraft had failed previously.

According to transcripts, the case was heavy with testimony about gears and servo units that control flight.

It was also heavy with jury instructions. Among the many given was one that said the mere happening of an accident does not indicate a  product is dangerous. If the cause of injury if left to guessing, the plaintiffs can’t recover, according to court filings.

Another laid out seven clear failures of the design and function of the autopilot system that the plaintiffs must prove against Honeywell in order to win their settlements.

The jury deliberated about an hour and a half before finding in favor of Honeywell.

Melissa and Christine Bowen and their local attorney could not be reached Wednesday evening. A person at the rebuilt home came to the door and declined to comment.

The case can be appealed to a higher court.