Commitment Precision & Results - Jacksonville, Florida

FAA settles Vilano crash cases for $3.75 million

By Paul Pinkham
Story updated at 12:50 AM on Tuesday, Jun. 2, 2009

The federal government has agreed to pay $3.75 million to the families of three people killed when a small plane crashed into the ocean off Vilano Beach in 2005.

Though the Federal Aviation Administration admitted no fault in the court settlement, lawyers for the families of the pilot, his daughter and a teenage friend said the amount speaks volumes. They had blamed negligence by air traffic controllers for the deaths.

“The government rarely settles cases in this amount,” said Jacksonville attorney Woody Wilner, who represented the widow of pilot Gary Tillman. The Georgia couple’s 16-year-old daughter, Hannah, and her friend, 16-year-old Anna Kipp, also died in the crash.

Denise Tillman settled her claim against the FAA for $3 million while Kipp’s parents settled for $750,000.

“It’s never enough to replace a daughter,” said Mark Pierce, the Kipps’ attorney in Texas. “It’s always tough to come up with an objective amount.”

Spokespeople for the FAA and U.S. Justice Department, which defended the cases, wouldn’t comment.
A third passenger, 16-year-old Rachel Hostetler, survived and didn’t pursue litigation.

Tillman was taking his daughter and her two friends to the Bahamas for Christmas vacation when he reported engine trouble in his 1952 Cessna 195 about a mile off Vilano Beach. They had just left Craig Municipal Airport in Jacksonville for Fort Pierce.

He radioed controllers and asked them to direct him to the beach so he could make an emergency landing. Instead they sent him south to the St. Augustine airport.

The lawsuit also accused the controllers of not notifying the U.S. Coast Guard in time to begin rescue operations.

Kipp made it out of the plane, but died in the hospital.

Wilner said his clients are pleased the case is over without a trial.

“It was a tragic circumstance,” Wilner said.

Under federal tort claim regulations, attorney’s fees are set at 25 percent.


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