Patton & Ryan Parachutes in Saving Millions in Lawsuit by Grounded Pilot

December 19, 2017

On the eve of trial, Patton & Ryan was brought in as lead trial counsel to defend a major national utility con­tractor in a suit filed by an injured Delta pilot claiming over $10 million in lost wages and medical expenses. Patton & Ryan parachuted in at the request of the util­ity contractor’s excess insurer to mitigate the damage in a claim that was spiraling out of control.

The injured pilot was a passenger in a shuttle bus transporting Delta flight crew from the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport to downtown Minneapo­lis. During the trip, the shuttle bus hit a pothole in an intersection causing the pilot’s head to forcefully impact the ceiling. The pilot claimed a cervical injury requiring laminectomy surgery that caused chronic headaches and prevented him from ever flying again. Discovery established that the pot hole resulted from an improperly patched utility cut made by Patton & Ryan’s client as part of a large gas line replacement project in downtown Minneapolis. Multiple engineer­ing experts opined that the pot hole was caused by insufficient backfill and compaction of the substrate supporting the patched utility cut.

Multiple reports were made to the police and other city official by motorists complaining of a large pot hole in the intersection. A witness from the city’s street main­tenance department testified to checking on the inter­section in response to these reports and discovering a large pot hole caused by the utility cut. Additionally, video footage obtained from a neighboring construc­tion project captured Patton & Ryan’s client perform­ing excavation work at the intersection and the subse­quent progression of the pot hole.

With these unfavorable liability facts already estab­lished, Patton & Ryan set out to mitigate damages by retaining a biomechanical expert to recreate the inci­dent to establish that it could only have occurred if the pilot was not wearing his seat belt and that the forces involved were insufficient to cause his injuries. Patton & Ryan also established facts during the few remain­ing witness depositions that increased exposure for the co-defendant shuttle bus operator. This includ­ed establishing that other shuttle bus operators had encountered the pot hole in prior trips and failed to report the issue to the company’s dispatcher as was required by internal safety policies.

Patton & Ryan’s reputation as an aggressive defense firm and presence in the final stages of discovery overwhelmed an undermanned plaintiff’s firm who began to desperately push for a mediated resolution. Sensing weakness, Patton & Ryan refused to engage in formal mediation and disclosed harmful video sur­veillance of the pilot proving he was exaggerating his claimed injuries. Patton & Ryan was then able to se­cure a settlement for its client after being involved in the litigation for only a few months that was one-tenth of the pilot’s claimed economic damages. This favor­able settlement included only $50,000 contributed by the excess insurer that retained Patton & Ryan to de­fend the claim.