An Itasca County jury has ordered Cirrus Design, an airplane manufacturer in Duluth, and the University of North Dakota to pay $14.5 million to the families of two men who were killed in a 2003 Cirrus plane crash in north central Minnesota.
The plane crashed in a densely wooded area near Hill City on Jan. 18, 2003, killing the pilot, Gary Prokop, 47, and James Kosak, 51. Both were from Grand Rapids.
The men were traveling in a Cirrus SR-22 to St. Cloud to meet family members for a hockey tournament. Witnesses say they saw the plane flying at a high speed at treetop level, and then burst into flames when it hit the trees.
The families of the two men sued Cirrus and the University of North Dakota's Aerospace Foundation, claiming they were negligent in failing to adequately train Prokop on how to fly the plane by instruments in bad weather.
Attorney Phil Sieff, who represented Kosak's family, said Cirrus and UND did not provide training in risk management of the Cirrus SR-22.
"We contended very clearly that Mr. Prokop purchased and was promised training, and it wasn't provided to him," said Seiff. "The failure of that training directly led to the plane crash, and the jury agreed."
The jury found Cirrus and University of North Dakota were 75 percent negligent, and found Prokop 25 percent negligent.
Jurors awarded Kosak's family $7.4 million and Prokop's family $9 million -- it would have been $12 million had he not been found negligent.
Todd Simmons, Cirrus' vice president of marketing, says the company is considering an appeal.
"We are disappointed in this initial verdict, but we're going to be exploring all the options in the legal process for Cirrus aircraft," said Simmons.
Earlier this week, Cirrus announced that it is recalling 50 employees who had been laid off in January, and increasing its production from four aircraft per week to six. Simmons said the company did not believe the verdict would affect those moves.
The company had about 500 workers on furlough early this year, and most of them are now back at work. Cirrus also eliminated more than 200 jobs in a reorganization last fall.
(The Associated Press contributed to this report)