Why Do Jury Verdicts Usually Go Against NTSB Findings?

USA Today conducted an investigation linking crashes to defects in small aircraft. Over five decades, nearly 45,000 people have been killed in private plane and helicopter crashes.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) says that 86 percent of private crashes are caused by pilot error. However, USA Today says its investigation reveals many instances in which defective parts in small aircraft led to a crash.

In civil court, judges and juries have found major airplane and helicopter manufacturers liable for these faulty parts. These companies have had to pay out hundreds of millions of dollars in wrongful death damages:

  • Cessna Aircraft
  • Robinson Helicopter
  • Mitsubishi Aircraft
  • Bell Helicopter
  • Lycoming Engines

Interestingly, these multi-million dollar verdicts go against the findings of the NTSB. This could be for a couple of reasons:

  • The NTSB conducts limited investigations into most private aircraft crashes.
  • There could be a conflict of interest, because the NTSB requests the airplane manufacturers to conduct an investigation into any possible faults that may have caused a crash. The NTSB requests this even when a manufacturer is sued for a possible problem with their aircraft.

Latherow Law OfficeChicago injury attorneys


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Can you legally park or store trucks or heavy equipment in a residential area?

Residential neighborhoods often are protected by zoning ordinances and restrictive covenants. Zoning ordinances are created by municipal governments by cities, townships and boroughs. They regulate use of land, declaring certain areas to be residential, others commercial and others industrial. Special enterprise, agricultural, educational or medical zones may exist in some municipalities. Restrictive covenants are different. Deeds written to convey property from one owner to another may include language restricting the use of the property. In planned residential developments, a lengthy set of restrictive covenants may be recorded. These covenants are not actually listed in the deed to each lot, but are recorded in the county Office of the Recorder of Deeds and are simply referenced in the deeds. A prospective buyer or his or her attorney must read and understand all zoning ordinances and recorded restrictions to fully understand the permitted uses of a property.

In two Pennsylvania cases, home owners were prohibited from parking commercial trucks at their homes. In one case, the truck parking was found to violate the local zoning ordinance; in the other a set of restrictive covenants were deemed to ban truck parking.

In the zoning case, a homeowner regularly parked his truck in the rear of his home in a residential zone in a western Pennsylvania town. The homeowner was a tools franchisee who sold and serviced commercial tools. His Ford P30 truck measured sixteen feet long by ten feet high and contained all his tools and equipment, a phone, fax and computer. He kept all his inventory in the truck and conducted all of his business out of the truck. The homeowner received about eight business-related mail packages per month. After neighbors complained about the homeowner’s business activities, he was cited by the local zoning officer for violating the ban on business uses in the residential zone. The Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court upheld the zoning hearing board and found that the homeowner’s receipt of business mail and his parking of the truck at his home violated the ban on business uses in the residential district.

In the restrictive covenant case, a homeowner sometimes parked his truck tractor and one or more trailers at his home in a planned residential development. He also sometimes repaired the truck tractor at his home. A non-jury trial was held on a lawsuit brought against the homeowner by the Architectural Control Committee of the development. The trial court found that the homeowner’s parking and repair of his truck tractor and trailers did not violate the restrictive covenants; however, on appeal the trial court was reversed. The Pennsylvania Superior Court found that the covenants which prohibited all uses except residential uses and which banned “tractors” and “trailers” were clearly violated by the homeowner. “Storage of heavy equipment is neither incidental to, nor customary in, a residential area,” the Court noted.

Litigation concerning the permitted use of residential property is complicated and subject to many exceptions. Homeowners may be entitled to variances from zoning regulations and restrictive covenants are subject to strict interpretation by the courts. Before assuming that a particular use is permitted or prohibited, a homeowner should thoroughly review the zoning laws, all recorded covenants and the history of the use of the property.

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Can you be held liable for a motor vehicle loan that you co-signed as a buyer, even if you are not the spouse or parent of the actual owner?

Before January 1, 1997, only mothers and fathers or husbands and wives who co-signed on an installment loan for a motor vehicle were primarily liable along with the actual owner of the vehicle.
In a recent decision, the Illinois Supreme Court held that persons (other than parents or spouses) who co-signed as buyers on a motor vehicle loan contract, but did not take actual possession of the vehicle, could not be held primarily liable for the debt. This case arose when an automobile dealership attempted to recover the purchase price of the vehicle from the co-signor without instituting any direct proceedings against the owner of the vehicle who was in actual possession of it. In this case, the co-signor was not primarily liable on the debt even though his name was listed on the Certificate of Title as an owner. The court distinguished between the actual receipt of the vehicle as opposed to legal receipt evidenced by the title.
However, under an amendment to the Illinois Motor Vehicle Retail Installment Sales Act that became effective on January 1, 1997, a spouse, parent, or any person listed as an owner of the motor vehicle on the Certificate of Title is primarily responsible for paying the debt on the vehicle if they co-signed as a buyer on the loan.
The effect of this recent amendment, notwithstanding the recent court decision, is that a person who is not a spouse, parent, or in actual possession of the vehicle but signs as a buyer on a motor vehicle retail installment sales contract will be held primarily liable on the debt if their name is placed on the Certificate of Title. It is unlikely that any dealership or lender would omit any c-signor’s name from the title to the vehicle.
Anyone who does not fit the Act’s criteria as a spouse, parent, or owner (actual or legal) would be put in the capacity of a guarantor on the loan. This means that when you co-sign on a motor vehicle installment loan you become secondarily responsible for paying the debt. Your obligation to the seller as a guarantor arises only after the seller has diligently taken all legal means to collect the debt from the primary obligor, i.e., the owner, or parent or spouse co-signor. If the seller is not able to collect all of the debt, or the primary obligor is insolvent or bankrupt, or it otherwise becomes apparent that it is useless to proceed against them, the seller may look to you to pay the remainder of the debt on the vehicle.

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Can real estate or business brokers be legally denied fees?

Illinois law distinguishes between real estate brokers and business brokers and has different requirements for each. A real estate broker must be licensed by the state, while a business broker must register with the Illinois Secretary of State. A typical business, however, may include both business assets and real estate, potentially triggering both statutory requirements.
Two Illinois business brokers who were neither licensed as real estate brokers nor registered as business brokers tried unsuccessfully to collect a finder’s fee in connection with the $3.3 million sale of a landfill. The brokers claimed a 6% fee from the seller of the landfill for their efforts in locating a purchaser. The business acquisition was structured as a stock purchase and included the ongoing business, operating permits, and equipment, as well as 180 acres of land.
The court dismissed the brokers’ lawsuit because it refused to believe that the real estate was simply incidental to the landfill deal. In the court’s words, “without land, there can be no landfill.” Because the land was of principal importance to the transaction, the brokers needed an Illinois real estate broker’s license in order to collect their finder’s fee.
The brokers also failed in their attempt to collect the finder’s fee as business brokers, rather than as real estate brokers, because they did not satisfy two of the requirements under the Illinois Business Brokers Act. The brokers were not registered as business brokers with the Illinois Secretary of State and their broker’s contract was not in writing.
Before you become involved in the sale of a business as a finder or broker, determine whether real estate is a substantial component of the transaction. Without a real estate license, you may forfeit a finder’s fee or commission. Even if the business does not involve real estate, you must be a registered business broker with a written contract in order to collect your fee.

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Can I get a refund of a real estate deposit?

The Pennsylvania Superior Court recently required the sellers to refund most of the potential buyers’ deposit in an aborted real estate transaction, even though the buyers breached the contract of sale and the contract itself provided for forfeiture of the down payment. What happened?

Pedro and Magdalia Matos entered into a written contract to sell their small commercial storefront in Philadelphia to Luis and Antonio Disla. The contract called for prompt settlement and provided that all deposit moneys and other sums advanced by the buyers could be kept by the sellers as liquidated damages if the buyers failed to comply with the contract. The Dislas made an initial down payment of $4,000, followed three weeks later by an advance of an additional $20,000. The total sale price was $40,000. The Dislas backed out of the contract and then sought the return of their $24,000 down payment.

The court ruled that the Matoses were entitled to keep only $4,000 and required that they return $20,000 to the Dislas. The court found that although the contract permitted the retention of all down payment moneys as liquidated damages, Pennsylvania law supports liquidated damages clauses only when such clauses do not “effect a penalty.”

The court reviewed the contract, the intentions of the parties, the property, and its price. Noting that it had previously upheld forfeitures of liquidated damages amounting to 10% of contract prices, the court declined to uphold the sellers’ retention of a 60% deposit in this case. While the Matoses’ contract contained a liquidated damages clause, the clause itself did not identify the amounts of the down payments, nor did it give any specific reason why a forfeiture of 60% of the purchase price was fair or agreed upon by the parties.

Liquidated damages awards are carefully reviewed by the courts. When liquidated damages effect a penalty, they are not enforceable. If you are a party to a real estate contract involving substantial down payments, you should pay particular attention to the clarity of the forfeiture clause.

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Can higher out-of-state waste disposal fees be justified?

Claiming that it only wanted shippers of out-of-state waste into the state to pay their fair share of disposal costs, Oregon imposed a surcharge on disposal of out-of-state waste. The fee was about three times as large as that for in-state waste. The Court found the plan to be a prohibited form of protectionism.

The higher fee for “foreign” waste favored economic interests in Oregon over out-of-state interests. This put the burden on Oregon officials to prove that legitimate interests of the state were present that could not be served by any alternative means that did not discriminate against sister states.

The Court found that no such justifications existed. It was true that out-of-state shippers did not pay general taxes in Oregon, as did their Oregon counterparts, but the gap between in-state and out-of-state disposal fees caused by the surcharge was too wide to be justified on this basis. In addition, general taxes, such as income taxes, and disposal fees are so different in nature that an attempt to weigh the respective tax burdens would be pointless.

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Can abandoned railroad track easements be transferred to a city for public use?

In the 1890s, a railroad built track on easements it acquired over property in Vermont. The property owners kept title to the underlying land. In 1975, the railroad abandoned the easements. Using federal legislation commonly known as the Rails-To-Trails Act, in 1985 the State of Vermont and a city petitioned the Interstate Commerce Commission to transfer the right of way from the railroad to the city for use as a nature trail for hiking and biking.
In a ruling that could affect many similarly situated landowners across the country, a federal appeals court held that the government could not convert the former railroad track into a public trail without first compensating the landowners for the loss of the interests represented by the easements. The easements simply were not the government’s to give away, however good an idea it was to reclaim unused property for public recreational purposes.

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Can a person with a life estate move out and rent the property?

Under the prevailing law in most states, a life estate has the right to do anything with his or her property. It is not mandatory to live there and use it as his/ her home, but the person can obviously rent it out. The holder of the life estate is responsible for maintaining the property, paying taxes, maintaining it in good repair, and not permitting or suffering any “waste” or other damage to it.

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Can a Pennsylvania township charge a license fee for billboards?

When townships issue licenses for building, development, and sign-posting activities, they are permitted by Pennsylvania law to charge license fees. Such license fees are considered to be compensation to the township for costs expended in the regulation of the activity in question. Taxes, by contrast, produce much higher revenue than what is expended by the governmental authority in supervising the taxing program.

A Pennsylvania billboard operator recently objected to a Pennsylvania township’s annual billboard license fee, claiming that the fee collected for inspecting and regulating the billboards in the township was in excess of the actual costs.

After the zoning hearing board and the county court upheld the license fee, the billboard owner appealed to the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court. The court first observed that it must generally defer to the findings of fact issued by a zoning hearing board. However, the court noted that the board’s acceptance of the township’s cost estimates was not supported by fact. Those cost estimates included a charge for the use of the township building offices by employees. The court observed that the cost of running the building was inevitable and was not tied to the inspection of billboards. Further, the court noted that while the employees mentioned logs kept by the township inspectors, the logs were not received or reviewed by the board. Finally, the court stated that where a governmental entity charges substantially more than what the private sector would for a service, the government’s charge is unreasonable.

If you are paying a license fee to a township, you are entitled to be billed for no more than the township’s actual cost of regulating the licensed activity. If you think you are overpaying, consider bringing an action before the appropriate township hearing body.

If you are responsible for the establishment of licensing fees for your township, be aware that you may be held to the cost standards established in the private sector, and that, in any event, you can be called upon to justify the township’s costs and expenses.

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Can a city government limit an individual’s liberty of expression in their own home?

Tired of visual clutter in its neighborhoods, the City of Ladue, Missouri, banned all signs on residential property except for signs that warned of hazards, identified residences, or advertised that the property was for sale. Margaret, who was determined to express her opposition to the outbreak of the Persian Gulf War, placed a small sign that read “For Peace in the Gulf” in the second-story window of her home. Then she sued to stop the enforcement of the ordinance.

Margaret prevailed in a unanimous decision before the Supreme Court, which stressed the special respect that our culture and laws accord to individual liberty in the home. As the Court put it, “that principle has special resonance when the government seeks to constrain a person’s ability to speak there.”

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