A San Mateo County Superior Court jury recently awarded the family of 67 year old Kenneth Ira Gottlieb, a pilot who died in a fatal crash near American Canyon in August 2009, $13.3 million in economic and non-economic damages. The award stems from a civil suit filed against the aircraft’s mechanic who worked on Gottlieb’s Cessna 182.

The accident took place shortly after the pilot took off from Napa County Airport on Aug. 5th, 2009. According to federal aviation authorities the fatal accident was due to pilot error. However, the deceased pilot’s family members contended that the pilot’s seat had a mechanical problem which resulted in the fatal accident shortly after takeoff from Napa County.
NTSB claims pilot error
The 67-year-old San Francisco psychiatrist’s Cessna 182 crashed near Watson Lane, east of Highway 29 near a chardonnay vineyard. Following investigations, the National Transportation Safety Board determined that Gottlieb did not follow some departure procedures and lost situational awareness on takeoff. Due to this he allegedly steered the plan in the wrong direction and crashed into a hillside north of American Canyon.
Accident attorney conducts private investigation
The Gottlieb family’s accident attorney conducted a private investigation into the accident, and found that Faride Khalaf, the Cessna’s mechanic, did not properly record the maintenance work performed on the plane in the aircraft’s logs. The attorney found that the mechanic did not document repairs Khalaf had performed on the pilot’s seat a few weeks before the crash.
The attorney stated in the Aviation Law Monitor that based on their forensic work, experts testified that Gottlieb’s seat unexpectedly slid to its full aft position and was jammed as he took off from the runway. Since the pilot’s hand and feet could not reach the controls the aircraft veered off course. The aircraft crashed into the hillside before Gottlieb could get on his knees up to the control wheel.
Investigations reveal mechanic at fault
According to investigations conducted by the accident attorney on behalf of the Gottlieb family, Khalaf had failed to install new seat parts despite charging for them. He illegally jerry-rigged the seat release mechanism, which failed and led to the crash. Emails from Khalaf confirming that the annual inspection was complete, when it really wasn’t, were found on Gottlieb’s hard drive.
Based on Khalaf’s report certifying that the plane was safe to fly, Gottlieb decided to takeoff from Napa. However, all that the mechanic had done was an oil change to make it look as if the aircraft was serviced. He failed to inspect the plane, which was evident from the fact that he was not aware that his jerry-rigging could lead to failure. So Gottlieb is partially at fault here but Khalaf really screwed up.
Khalaf’s irresponsible attitude led to a series of failures. His attorney quit a year before the trial, and Khalaf elected to represent himself during the trial which turned out to last 7 days. Dr. John Cane was called in by the mechanic to testify on Gottlieb’s medical issues. However, the doctor was not allowed to take the stand as the judge ruled him to be unqualified. The $13.3 million award is believed to be a record in California for the death of an individual over 65.

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