Atlanta—Milliken & Company is to blame for the deadly crash that followed a plane’s collision with a utility pole on the company’s land, an attorney for the family of one of five people killed in the wreck claimed Tuesday, as trial opened against the company. McCorkle, et al. v. Milliken & Company, 15EV000163.
"The plane had the right... to be be where it was,” Moraitakis and Kushel’s Nicholas Moraitakis told jurors. “The pole did not. It was an unauthorized obstruction.”
Heidi McCorkle, 28, was one of five people killed when the small jet in which they were traveling struck a utility pole and crashed following an aborted night landing at Georgia’s Thomson-McDuffie Regional Airport in February 2013.
McCorkle’s family claims the utility pole, which stood 72 feet above ground, violated an aviation easement Milliken gave the airport decades earlier.
During Tuesday’s openings, Moraitakis walked jurors through a timeline he said showed Milliken breached the easement, and caused the crash, when it allowed Georgia Power to erect the pole as part of additional utility service the company requested.
Moraitakis said Georgia Power and Milliken had discussed restrictions related to the aviation easement. But he claimed the company failed to follow up to ensure the pole’s placement complied with the easement, and failed to have the pole removed or otherwise render it safer for planes flying in the area.
“They chose to do nothing to fulfill their promise and sworn covenant to the flying public to keep this airspace clear,” he said, noting the pole’s top was not equipped with a light when the crash occurred. “They chose to do nothing for 24 years.”
But MIlliken contends it has no authority over the pole. During Tuesday’s opening statements, Pete DeMahy, of DeMahy, of DeMahy, Labrador, Drake, Victor, Rojas & Cabeza, told jurors Milliken acted within its responsibility when requesting additional service from Georgia Power, but the utility was responsible for the pole’s ultimate placement and maintenance. “We’re talking about Georgia Power, we’re not talking about 'Steve’s Electrical Company' down the street here,” DeMahy said. “These are the experts.”
Georgia Power was one of several defendants named along with Milliken in the initial suit. However, Milliken is the only defendant remaining at trial in the case.
DeMahy told jurors the pole’s location was noted on the airport’s flight charts and was personally known to Richard Trammel, the pilot of the aircraft, who had flown in and out of the airport many times. DeMahy said evidence would show pilot error ultimately caused the crash. “Mr. Trammel is an experienced pilot, but he was a very bad pilot that night,” DeMahy said. “He admits that, but for his errors, this accident doesn’t happen.”
McCorkle and the other passengers killed in the crash were employees of the Vein Guys, a vascular surgery group, and were returning from a business trip in Nashville when the crash occurred.
This is the first of five cases filed by the families of those killed in the crash to go to trial.
Trial is expected to last two weeks.
Email Arlin Crisco at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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