Fla. Seaplane Crash Victims File Wrongful Death Lawsuit for Chalk’s Airline Insurance Proceeds

January 4, 2006

A lawsuit asking a Miami-Dade Circuit Court to make sure victims of a Chalk’s Ocean Airways crash receive their share of the company’s insurance money was filed on Tuesday by relatives of a woman and her infant daughter who were killed two weeks ago when a seaplane crashed into Government Cut off of Miami Beach, Fla.

John Ruiz, attorney for plaintiff Kendrick Sherman of Bimini, the Bahamas, told the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel he moved quickly to sue because “Chalk’s is on shaky financial ground and the only money victims might have access to is a $50 million insurance policy.

“There’s really not much more in the way of assets,” Ruiz said.

Sherman lost his wife, Sophia, and daughter, Bethany, in the crash off Miami Beach on Dec. 19.

Twenty people died when Bimini-bound Flight 101 plunged into the ocean shortly after taking off from Watson Island in Miami.

According to the wrongful death suit, Chalk’s financial problems in recent years have included $1.5 million in losses in 2001 and 2002 and failed attempts by owner James Confalone, who bought Chalk’s out of bankruptcy in 1999, to sell the airline.

Ruiz said he thinks the financial value of the airline “is minimal if not nonexistent,” particularly since Chalk’s stopped flying two days after the crash and the Federal Aviation Administration last week grounded the type of seaplanes Chalk’s flies pending further inspections.

Twelve of the people on board the plane were from Bimini. Although Sherman and his two surviving children are named as plaintiffs, Ruiz said he actually represents relatives of six of the Bimini crash victims and the families of two other victims from the island have verbally agreed to hire him.

“[Sherman] is the representative of the class action,” Ruiz said.

“He lost his wife and his 16-month-old baby girl. We felt that his claim was the most adequate claim, someone who lost a wife and a child and left two minor children behind.”

Ruiz wants a judge to order that any successful claims against Chalk’s be paid out equitably from the insurance proceeds.

“That would mean that regardless of how much courts award to the passengers’ families in lawsuits involving the crash, each family would get a proportionate share of the $50 million available,” Ruiz told the Sun-Sentinel.

National Transportation Safety Board investigators have said they found a fatigue crack in a wing that separated from the plane before it crashed, but have not determined officially what caused the crash.

The suit alleges that although corrosion was found in the wing of a Chalk’s plane wing in the early 1990s, the company did not take adequate steps to address the corrosion problem in its fleet.

Such steps would have involved a “rigorous maintenance plan” that would have included X-rays of the wing of the plane that crashed and peeling back the plane’s skin for a detailed inspection, the suit says.

“We believe that the plane was not being properly maintained,” Ruiz said.

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