One of Britain’s highest appellate courts handed a victory to Coral Gables aviation attorney Rollin M. Smith and other Florida lawyers on Monday, capping off a dispute that’s spanned more than a decade.
The Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, the highest court of appeal for select members of the British Commonwealth as well as former English territories, issued a ruling in favor of Nassau-based Bahamasair on Oct. 8. The case in question concerned Bahamasair’s lawsuit against manufacturer Messier-Dowty over the collapse of a landing gear on a Bahamasair DHC-8-301, or “Dash 8″ aircraft, on April 20, 2007. No passengers died, but the airplane was completely demolished.
The Privy Council reinstated an October 2014 ruling in the Bahamian Supreme Court that had ordered Messier-Dowty to award $3,484,459 in damages to Bahamasair for the destruction of the Dash 8 in addition to legal costs. The chief justice found that Messier-Dowty had failed to properly alert the airline of deficiencies and subsequent risks that existed within older models of their landing gear. Although the manufacturer distributed newer models without these risks, the chief justice found that it did not properly stress the dangers of the outdated design to Bahamasair.
Read the British appellate court’s ruling here:
Messier-Dowty successfully challenged the ruling in the Court of Appeal of the Bahamas, which issued an order reversing the trial court’s judgment. The appellate court held that the chief justice did not consider the breadth of evidence in the case and reversed his decision entirely, including the award of costs.
John M. Murray, partner at the Tampa office of Murray, Morin & Hernan, was brought onto the case by Bahamasair’s London-based underwriters shortly after the originating crash took place.
“We were involved rather quickly, early 2008 I believe,” Murray recounted to the Daily Business Review. “We did some significant investigation, expert witnesses, the stuff that you do to get ready for trial.”
Murray is a licensed pilot. He and fellow aviation attorney Smith, an associate at Murray, Morin & Hernan’s Coral Gables office, conducted the investigation that prompted Bahamasair to file suit against Messier-Dowty.
“Aviation is constantly changing. Anytime a company can make a safety upgrade, they do so,” Murray said. “Messier-Dowty made a safety upgrade to this landing gear, but rather than come back to the users of the landing gear and say, ‘You need to upgrade it,’ they just let it sit. So [Bahamasair] assumed they could use the old part for the duration of its service life.”
Murray asserted that Messier-Dowty should have informed the airline to fix or replace the part as soon as possible, because the part adorning their Dash 8 planes would not last.
Although Bahamian commercial attorney Krystal Rolle argued on behalf of the airline in both the trial and appellate courts, Murray and Smith traveled abroad to be present during the proceedings. Murray described the Privy Council’s procedure as well as Rolle’s arguments, which lasted far longer than the 20 minutes attorneys are allotted before the U.S. Supreme Court, as alternately “awe-inspiring” and “amazing.”
According to Murray, the Privy Council’s ruling should not leave room for further legal proceedings, effectively ending the decadelong legal saga.
“There’s no punitive anything against [Messier-Dowty] but we are in the British system, and they have a loser-pays system [and] winners generally recover fees and costs,” Murray said. “There was nothing improper that would lead to any punitive actions at all. We disagreed, obviously, on the outcome of the case.”
Messier-Dowty’s lawyer Frederick P. Alimonti, founder and senior partner of New York-based aviation law firm Alimonti Law Offices, was unable to consult with his client by press time to offer comment.