A man with a student pilot’s license crashed into a home, killing himself and his minor daughter. The deceased child’s mother brought suit against the local aviation board and others for permitting him to take off in the plane despite the absence of a pilot’s license, seeking damages for the death of her daughter.
The defendants moved for summary judgment, saying that the father had intentionally crashed the plane into his mother-in-law’s house with the intent to kill his daughter and himself. The father and his wife were in the process of a divorce, and the father was upset that his wife was dating another man. Among other damning facts, the evidence showed that
Eric [the father] attempted to contact Beth [the mother] on her cell phone, and he made angry and threatening statements when he reached Beth on the third attempt. At some point during the conversation, Eric told Beth that she would never see Emily again. Just before the plane crashed into Pace’s house, two bystanders witnessed the airplane abruptly angle downward and throttle its engines toward the ground, without taking the normal steps to prepare for landing, such as deploying flaps, reducing speed, and shallowing descent. Eric crashed the airplane into the house shortly thereafter. As noted above, [his mother-in-law’s] residence was one of 18,500 houses in Lawrence County. [Citations omitted.]
Eric was not some unknown, unauthorized person who gained access to the airplane in question on the date of the incident. To the contrary, Eric was known to those who were operating the airport, including Jacobs, the airport employee, who gave the airplane’s keys to Eric on the date of the incident because he had a scheduled flying lesson on the airport calendar. Jacobs did not think that Eric was acting strangely when he saw him at the airport that day, and there was nothing out of the ordinary about a student pilot obtaining the keys to an airplane and taxiing it out to the runway before a scheduled flying lesson. None of the employees saw Emily on the day of the flight and Eric gave no indication to anyone that he was taking a passenger with him. [Citation omitted.]