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The estate of a skydiving employee killed by an airplane propeller failed to show the owner of the airplane and pilot were negligent for her death.
In Winkler v. Win Win Aviation Inc., a 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals judge affirmed on Tuesday a district court’s decision that granted summary judgment to an aviation company and pilot after finding that the employee’s injuries were not foreseeable.
Sarah Rhoads had been employed by Start Skydiving LLC, based in Middletown, Ohio, which owns several planes but also rents aircraft from other companies, including DeKalb, Illinois-based Win Win Aviation Inc. Ms. Rhoads worked primarily indoors as an office manager for the company, and had received training on safely entering the tarmac. All employees also signed liability waivers indicating their understanding of the risks of working at the company.
On the day of the incident, the company had rented a twin-engine plane from Win Win Aviation, which the pilot parked near a designated staff-only zone. He left the engine running during refueling, which was consistent with policy because shutting down the engines required waiting 15 to 20 minutes before restarting.
Ms. Rhoads came out to the tarmac to get the pilot’s lunch order and walked directly under the wing and into the propeller, which struck her. She later died from her injuries.
Her mother, Rebecca Winkler, sued the pilot and Win Win Aviation on behalf of Ms. Rhoads’ estate, alleging wrongful death based on alleged negligence. The defendants moved for summary judgment, which a district court granted. The estate appealed.
The appellate court affirmed the ruling, holding that the estate failed to show that Win Win Aviation and the pilot owed a duty to Ms. Rhoads under Ohio law. The estate argued that the pilot, by failing to shut off the plane engines and give a safety briefing, should have anticipated an injury would result. The court, however, noted that regulations did not require the pilot to provide a safety briefing for auxiliary personnel — only passengers — and noted that Ms. Rhoads had received safety training that included prop safety and that the directive to leave the plane running came from Start Skydiving, not the pilot or Win Win Aviation. The appellate court held that Ms. Rhoads’ injury, while “tragic,” was not reasonably foreseeable.
Win Win Aviation did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The Supreme Court of North Carolina reversed and remanded an earlier ruling that found a woman’s injuries compensable in spite of possible pre-existing conditions, calling for the North Carolina Industrial Commission to further review the case.