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Third Lawsuit Filed After Sullivan Skydiving Crash
Maggie Rotermund St. Claire Missourian Editor
Washington Missourian

A third wrongful death suit was filed this week in relation to the fatal July skydiving plane crash in Sullivan.

The suit was filed by Barbara Berridge, mother of Melissa Berridge, a 38-year-old compliance officer for Claire McCaskill’s Senate campaign, who died in the July 29 crash that occurred shortly after takeoff.

The suit, filed in Franklin County Circuit Court, alleges wrongdoing by the maker of the plane’s engines. It names Quantum Leap Skydiving Inc., the engine’s manufacturer and those responsible for the plane’s maintenance and upkeep.

Six of the eight people aboard, including the pilot, died in the crash.

The suit seeks unspecified damages against United Technologies, the parent company of Pratt & Whitney, which made the PT6A turboprop engines on the DeHavilland DHC-6 airplane operated by Quantum Leap Skydiving Center of Sullivan.

The first suit was brought Aug. 2 by Vivian and Susan Delacroix of Kent, England, parents of Victoria Delacroix, 22. The second suit was filed Aug. 22 by Mark Cook and Annette Bachand, parents of Robert Cook, a 22-year-old University of Missouri-Rolla student.

In a preliminary report released Aug. 7, the National Transportation Safety Board refused to speculate on the cause of the accident, but said inspectors have retained the engine and propellers for further examination.

A lawyer representing all three families in their lawsuits said the NTSB will examine the engine from the downed plane on Nov. 14. The investigation will take place at Pratt & Whitney headquarters in Ottawa, Canada, according to Gary Robb, of Robb and Robb LLC.

Robb said his ongoing investigation has found Quantum Leap to have an excellent safety record.

“We are working to put together a comprehensive crash report, but it is still a work in progress at this point,” Robb said.

Robb said his team is poring over maintenance and damage reports, as well as NTSB reports for the past 22 years on the aircraft.

Robb’s investigation points to right engine failure just after takeoff.

“There’s still a lot we don’t know right now – we’ll learn more Nov. 14,” he said. “During the inspection the engine will be torn down and hopefully, after that examination, we’ll know how and why the right engine failed.”

Robb is working with Pratt & Whitney and the NTSB to have family representatives at the engine inspection.

Robb’s investigators also have a picture of the plane shortly after takeoff. The photo, found in Delacroix’s belongings, corroborates eyewitness accounts of the events, Robb said.

“All indications to this point – the eyewitness testimony, the photo and the flight characteristics – all of these point to a failure of the right engine at the worse possible time,” he said.

He added that with an engine failure of this type, it would be difficult for even the most experienced pilot to effectively and safely control the flight path.

Robb said the engine failure immediately after takeoff leaves the pilot with few options. He or she doesn’t have enough altitude to turn around and the pilot cannot abort.

If a failure of this magnitude occurred once the flight reached cruising altitude, the pilot could quickly arrange for an emergency landing.

The plane, carrying seven skydivers and the pilot, took a nosedive and struck a utility pole and trees before hitting the ground, according to Robb.

Robb has said that his clients will continue to keep their lawsuits separate legal petitions, but most likely will request a consolidation in the future.

Melissa Berridge was attempting her fifth solo jump at the time of the accident.

“She was a very bright, energetic and meticulous woman.” Robb said. “She received a degree in economics from Carnegie Mellon.”

Prior to joining McCaskill’s campaign, Berridge worked as a transportation analyst for Stanford University. “She was a complex and highly skilled data analyst,” he added.

She also served on other Senate campaigns. She is survived by her mother, a brother and two sisters.

“All the families who have filed lawsuits only want to find out what happened and keep it from happening again,” Robb said.

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Personal injury is an area of law that pertains to the injury of an individual. Both physical and emotional injuries fall into this branch of tort law. A personal injury lawyer is generally involved in cases where an injury has occurred due to the negligence of another party.

Examples of cases that a personal injury lawyer in Kansas City, Missouri can assist with include workplace accidents, falling or other accidents in the home, premises liability, defective and hazardous product cases, and dental and medical malpractice cases. If negligence on behalf of another party can be proved in court, compensation may be awarded.

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Wrongful death falls under the common law jurisdictions wherein a person may be held liable for a death. It is important to note that wrongful death is the only course of legal action in which a company, rather than an individual, is at fault for a death.

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