Year After N.Y. Yankee Lidle’s Crash, Lawsuits Stretch Across Country

By | October 12, 2007

A federal safety panel concluded earlier this year that Yankees pitcher Cory Lidle died in a New York City plane crash because he and his instructor misjudged a turn.

The finding has done little to settle the legal fights which now stretch across the country.

The Oct. 11, 2006, accident killed Lidle and his instructor, rattled a city always anxious about a possible terror attack and launched court cases in Manhattan, Florida and California.

By one estimate, there are more than $63 million worth of lawsuits outstanding against Lidle’s estate, from people injured or whose homes were damaged, or insurance companies that have paid out millions of dollars in damage claims.

After the plane slammed into the building on East 72nd Street on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, it fell dozens of stories to the ground in a burning heap.

Lidle and his instructor, Tyler Stanger, had insurance policies worth $1 million each, but that is far less than the claims against the estate, said a lawyer for the Lidle family.

“It’s not enough to cover even a percentage of the claims,” said the lawyer, Todd Macaluso, who would not give an exact dollar value of the estate.

Nevertheless, Macaluso hopes to settle some of the claims in the coming months.

Lidle’s estate is being handled in a court in Florida, where the Lidles had a home, while many of the suits brought by people who were injured or saw their homes damaged were filed in New York.

In California, the Lidle family has sued the maker of the plane, Duluth, Minn.-based Cirrus Design Corp., alleging the planes had a serious problem that resulted in the crash. That case is tentatively scheduled to go to trial next spring.

Macaluso charged Cirrus “knew about these flight control problems … which cause the controls to lock up.”

Company official Bill King insisted the plane in question, the Cirrus SR-20, is the safest of its kind.

Macaluso said the suit against Cirrus will seek more than $100 million in total for the deaths of Stanger and Lidle, based in part on estimates that Lidle could have earned another $30 million or more in his career as a big-league starting pitcher.

Lidle, a 34-year-old righthander, died days after finishing the baseball season. He and Stanger departed from a New Jersey airport for a sightseeing trip past the Statue of Liberty and north up the East River.

Due to federal flight restrictions, the plane had to make a U-turn at a certain point in the river. The National Transportation Safety Board concluded that the two men misjudged the turn and didn’t realize their mistake until it was too late.

As the plane drifted toward Manhattan, the pilot sought to correct the turn but instead lost altitude, possibly because of aerodynamic stall, investigators said. The NTSB did not conclude who was actually at the controls when the plane crashed.

The NTSB attributed the accident to “inadequate judgment, planning and airmanship” by Lidle and Stanger. Lawyers for the Lidle family have said the NTSB is too quick to blame the pilot in crashes. After the crash, federal aviation authorities tightened restrictions in the area.

At the scene of the crash, about a month more of repairs are expected before the building is back to pre-crash condition.

Jay Dankner, an official with the building’s condominium board, said that in a matter of weeks, the protective scaffolding will be taken down and a new entrance canopy installed.

Dankner, a liability lawyer, said that despite all of the lawsuits that have resulted from the crash, the tenants have not fought each other during the long months of rebuilding.

“There’s not been one person that’s even complained about how long it’s been taking. It’s a tragic situation for everyone, but we’re back and better than ever,” he said, before reflecting on perhaps the strangest part of the experience.

“We have notoriety now. People want to live in our building, it’s called the Lidle building.’

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