Atlanta—Jurors Friday evening cleared Milliken & Company of fault in the first wrongful death case to go to trial over a Georgia plane crash that killed five employees of a vascular practice. McCorkle, et al. v. Milliken & Company, et al., 15EV000163.
Heidi McCorkle, 28, an employee of the Vein Guys, died along with four coworkers in a February 2013 crash after the small jet in which they were traveling struck a utility pole on Milliken land adjoining the Thomson-McDuffie Regional Airport.
The land was part of an aviation easement Milliken had granted the airport before the pole was placed as part of a Georgia Power utility expansion Milliken requested.
McCorkle’s family claimed Milliken violated its duties under the easement by allowing Georgia Power to place the pole, which stood 72 feet off the ground.
During Friday’s closing arguments, the McCorkle family’s attorney, Moraitakis and Kushel’s Nicholas Moraitakis, suggested an $18.3 million damage award.
However, Fulton County State Court jurors needed about three hours to find for the company.
The two-week trial focused on whether Milliken violated its responsibilities under the easement and whether that caused the fatal crash.
During Friday’s closings, Moraitakis walked jurors through discussions between officials from Milliken and Georgia Power over the utilities expansion. Moraitakis said Milliken advised Georgia Power officials only once that utility poles such as the one at issue could stand no more than 50 feet above ground. But, Moraitakis said, Milliken did not ensure Georgia Power’s compliance with the requirement and did nothing about the pole that violated that term.
“[Milliken] can’t hand off that responsibility under the law,” Moraitakis said. They can’t hand off that responsibility by just having a meeting, and [saying] ‘Here’s the football Georgia Power. Run with it.’ It doesn’t work like that.”
The defense, which maintained pilot error caused the crash, contended the pole was not subject to a 50-foot height limitation. However, even if such a limitation applied, Milliken claimed it was irrelevant.
While plaintiffs alleged the plane hit the pole 58-59 feet above ground, Pete DeMahy, of DLD Lawyers, countered by walking jurors through testimony and calculations concluding the collision occurred below 50 feet. “The highest that plane could have gotten [at the time of the collision] is 49.7 feet. That’s just the math,” DeMahy said. “Even if you buy this ‘50-feet [limitation]’ stuff, he couldn’t have gotten there.”
The McCorkle case is the first wrongful death claim to go to trial against Milliken over the crash. While other defendants, including Georgia Power, were initially named in the McCorkle suit, Milliken remained the only defendant at trial.
Email Arlin Crisco at email@example.com.
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