Design Defects, Not Pilot Error, Caused Plane Crash That Injured 2, Expert Says in Trial Against Manufacturer

Posted by Arlin Crisco on Nov 2, 2018 2:23:48 PM


Donald Sommer demonstrates why he believes a low fuel warning light would not trigger following the unporting of fuel in a Socata TBM 700/850 plane. Blaine and Cynthia McCaleb were injured when their Socata crashed following the unporting of its fuel in a sideslip maneuver. 

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Fort Lauderdale, FL— An aircraft accident reconstruction expert wrapped three days of testimony Thursday with a sometimes tense back-and-forth over what led to a 2014 crash that injured two, as trial against the plane’s manufacturer continued through its first full week. McCaleb v. Daher-Socata, CACE15014561.

Blaine and Cynthia McCaleb’s Socata TBM 700/850 turboprop plane crashed on a high school athletic field in Fayetteville, Georgia after its fuel became unported, or sloshed away from the fuel line during a sideslip, a maneuver that tilts the craft, while the plane flew on autopilot.

While the McCalebs contend design defects in the Daher-Socata-manufactured craft, including a pumpless fuel system and inadequate warning features caused the crash that left Cynthia McCaleb with a traumatic brain injury, the defense argues a host of errors by pilot Blaine McCaleb caused the wreck.

On Thursday, Daher-Socata’s attorney, Nixon Dalrymple’s Joseph Ortego, peppered plaintiff’s aviation expert Donald Sommer with questions concerning whether Blaine McCaleb should have known the plane was in a  potentially dangerous sideslip while flying on autopilot. 

“If [McCaleb] looked at the lights up top, autopilot and yaw damper, he would see that the yaw damper wasn’t on, correct?” Ortego asked, referring to the yaw damper that, if activated, could have helped prevent the sideslip.

“He could,” Sommer said.

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“If he looked out the window, wouldn’t he see the wing tipped the wrong way?” Ortego continued, referring to Sommer’s earlier testimony that McCaleb should be checking out the window while in autopilot.

“I guess that would be something you would have to ask him,” Sommer responded.

Thursday wrapped three days of testimony in which Sommer concluded a combination of defects in the fuel and warning systems caused the crash. On Tuesday, Sommer walked jurors through the accident, and demonstrated how he believed an issue with the fuel’s low warning system kept the system from activating when the fuel became unported in the sideslip.

“The design is completely inadequate because you’ve got one system in the airplane that is completely capable of causing another system to fail,” Ortego said.  

Trial in the case is expected to last through next week.

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The McCalebs are represented by Katzman Lampert & Stoll’s David Katzman, Bradley Stoll, and Bruce Lampert.

Daher-Socata and Socata North America are represented by Nixon Peabody’s Brian Dalrymple, Joseph Ortego, and Erik Goergen and by Akerman LLP’s Michael Marsh and Donnie King. 

Topics: Florida, Aviation, McCaleb v. Daher-Socata