Palo Alto Weekly

News - October 26, 2012

Lawsuits settled for East Palo Alto plane crash

Details not released on the three settlements with victims' families

by Sue Dremann

More than 2.5 years after a small plane slammed into an East Palo Alto neighborhood and cut power to Palo Alto, three lawsuits stemming from the fatal, Feb. 17, 2010, crash have been settled, according to court papers filed in San Mateo County Superior Court.

Tesla Motors employees Brian Finn, 42, Andrew Ingram, 31, and pilot Douglas Bourn, 56, were killed in the fiery crash after Bourn's Cessna 310R clipped high-voltage power lines and a utility tower in dense fog at 7:55 a.m., then slammed into homes on Beech Street, destroying one and damaging several others.

Notices that three lawsuits were settled with Ingram's parents and aunt, Finn's wife and daughter, and East Palo Alto residents Ervin and Pinkie Hudleton were filed Sept. 4-10.

Settlement details have not been released.

Two other suits by East Palo Alto residents Lisa Jones and Jose Cortez-Herrera have not been settled, according to court records. Jones' lawsuit was filed in Santa Clara County Superior Court.

Bourn was a senior engineer from Santa Clara; Finn a senior manager from East Palo Alto; and Ingram an engineer who lived in Palo Alto. The trio had just taken off from the Palo Alto Airport en route to Hawthorne, Calif., for a business meeting at one of Tesla's facilities.

Air-traffic-control tapes indicated Bourn took off in heavy fog. An air-traffic controller had warned Bourn that he could not be cleared for takeoff due to the limited visibility and that flying would be at his own risk. Bourn said he understood.

Within minutes after takeoff, the plane hit the Pacific Gas & Electric tower and power lines a half-mile northwest of the airport runway. Parts of the aircraft then crashed into Jones' day care center and home, the Hudletons' carport and car, and the garage of an adjacent home. The fuselage ricocheted off a retaining wall in front of the Cortez-Herrera house and exploded in flames, singeing the home and causing smoke damage, family members said after the crash.

Investigators ruled out mechanical failure as the cause of the crash. Pilot error was the probable cause, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) determined in November 2011.

On Aug. 17, 2010, the Ingrams sued Bourn's estate and his Santa Clara company, Air Unique. The court combined their suit with the Hudletons' and that of Finn's wife, Sherina Yuk Chan. The three lawsuits alleged negligence on Bourn's part for willingly taking off in the unsafe conditions and because he did not follow his flight plan. At the time of the crash, visibility was less than 1/8 mile, according to the NTSB investigation.

Bourn was supposed to make "a right turn to a heading of 060 degrees within 1 mile of the airport." Instead, radar data showed the plane turned 45 degrees to the left after takeoff.

In July, Bourn's estate filed a summary-judgment motion to dismiss the lawsuit, asserting that because Finn, Ingram and Bourn were on a business trip their deaths were covered by Tesla's workers' compensation.

The estate lawyers argued that a claim of negligence is barred because the California Worker's Compensation Act provides workers' compensation as the exclusive remedy for injuries or death to coworkers. Zurich North America, which was handling workers' compensation for Tesla, had already determined that compensation would be made, but as of March 3 it had been "delaying death benefits pending the result of its dependency investigation," according to court documents.

The summary-judgment motion was to be heard on Sept. 27. A 10-day trial was scheduled for Nov. 19. Instead, notice of settlement and a request for case dismissals were filed for the Ingrams, Chan and the Hudletons. A final hearing to show cause for the dismissal is scheduled for Jan. 8, 2013.

The plaintiffs, their attorneys and defense attorneys for Bourn's estate did not return calls for comment.

Staff Writer Sue Dremann can be emailed at sdremann@paweekly.com.

Comments

Posted by resident, a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 20, 2012 at 9:29 am

How are the East Palo Alto families doing? Have they rebuilt their homes and businesses? Or are they stuck in limbo for years as the insurance company stalls on their payments?


Posted by Sue Dremann, a resident of another community
on Oct 20, 2012 at 9:51 am

Most of the families said last year that they have repaired their homes through insurance payments.


Posted by Sally, a resident of Greater Miranda
on Oct 20, 2012 at 9:59 am

It's great to hear that everyone is on the mend and this horrible event is coming to a close.

Too much is made of the "own risk" comment by the tower. The flight is always at the pilot's own risk whether it's foggy or a nice clear day.


Posted by resident, a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 20, 2012 at 10:58 am

Sue says "most" families have rebuilt, meaning that some have not. Sally says everyone is on the mend. Who is correct?

Have all the EPA families recovered from this tragedy? Is the neighborhood whole again?


Posted by neighbor, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 20, 2012 at 6:09 pm

I wish after tragedies like this, there was an entity monitoring the devastation of the lawyers and other post-tragedy disasters. Often, the loss is only amplified by all the sharks. Usually there's an insurance company pulling the strings behind the scenes


Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 20, 2012 at 6:54 pm

It would also be interesting to know what changes have been made to our power supply and what has been learned from this accident.

Sadness aside(and we do have sympathy) for those involved in the crash, on the ground and in the air, those of us who live and work in Palo Alto had our lives disrupted due to this. Obviously we don't want another similar accident, but we don't want anything to interrupt our power supply either.


Posted by village fool, a resident of another community
on Oct 21, 2012 at 7:45 am

I did not understand, please - Were all East Palo alto homes damages fixed?


Posted by Shut-It-Down, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 22, 2012 at 9:31 am

> Investigators ruled out mechanical failure as the cause of the crash.
> Pilot error was the probable cause, the National Transportation Safety
> Board (NTSB) determined in November 2011.

So it looks like this pilot will have ended up killing himself, and two others, done hundreds of thousands of dollars of direct damage at the crash location, and millions of dollars of damage to the residents/businesses of Palo Alto from lost productivity—and will end up being "not responsible" for any monetary compensation (at least from the estate's assets).

This pilot paid for his mistake with his life. But if he had survived he would have not only claimed that he should not be responsible, but that he should be allowed to continue flying out of this airport—continuing to put himself, and others, at risk of his incompetence.

This airport—and the pilots—are a clear and present danger to Palo Alto, and the neighboring cities.


Posted by The_punnisher, a resident of Mountain View
on Oct 22, 2012 at 12:20 pm

The_punnisher is a registered user.

As a pilot AND a former resident of Garden Street ( next to Beech Street ) I have a few more facts to offer:

1 It was VERY IMPORTANT to follow the proper takeoff recommendations ( a control tower can only make recommendations; it's the pilot's job to follow them )

2 When I was a kid living on Garden Street, PILOTS OFTEN " BUZZED " East Palo Alto. This is a direct violation of FAA rules! The takeoff pattern was well known to the pilots who used the P.A. Airport. However, MANY pilots " buzz " East Palo Alto, especially the ones who have houses there. The NORMAL SAFE DISTANCE HEIGHT IS 1500' AGL ( ASL is the same in this case ).

3 As a kid living in East Palo Alto, I often went to the berm that housed the " pump house " and had the High Voltage Transmission Towers. We often got muddy searching the tidal mud flats looking for aquatic life when the tide was out.
It was obvious to me that the East Palo Alto resident asked to " buzz " the house. That would explain the FAA violations ( 3 at this point ) and WHY the FAA HAS THESE REQUIREMENTS!

It's fairly obvious that this was a ME generation pilot. His lack of judgement killed the others under his care and responsibility, and literally cost $Millions in damages by not following the rules.

" There are OLD pilots and BOLD pilots, never any OLD, BOLD pilots "

If the pilot had followed the rules and proper procedures, this " incident would never have happened. " Rules are for other people, not me " was what was going through the pilot's head until they hit the power lines...

The pilot never should have taken off in the first place...


Posted by Brattle, a resident of Evergreen Park
on Oct 22, 2012 at 4:42 pm

You can make mistakes in a car, have an accident, and survive. But planes are much more unforgiving. They're no place to disregard the rules.


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