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Abrisch v. United States

359 F. Supp. 2d 1214 (2004)

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Abrisch v. United States

United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida

359 F. Supp. 2d 1214 (2004)

Facts

Donald Weidner was tired, ill, and taking medication as he flew his Piper Cherokee airplane with three passengers on board. Most of the route had good weather. However, when Weidner tried to make instrument-guided landings at two different airports, the weather at each airport made ground visibility so poor that Weidner was forced to execute a missed approach, i.e., to abort the landing and continue flying. Weidner then diverted to Jacksonville International Airport to land. A federal air-traffic controller gave Weidner weather information indicating that the conditions at Jacksonville were acceptable for an instrument-guided landing. However, shortly afterward, Jacksonville’s control tower received two separate, updated weather reports in relatively quick succession while Weidner was still approaching. These reports indicated that the weather had become severe and that landing at the airport was now unsafe. Possibly because the Jacksonville tower was using unfamiliar, temporary equipment and procedures during renovations, none of the air-traffic controllers who spoke to Weidner on his approach gave him either of the two updated weather reports or warned him that ground visibility had become almost nonexistent. Still relying on the outdated weather report, Weidner expected a break in the cloud ceiling at 500 feet. As Weidner descended to that height, he appeared to become confused and disoriented by the lack of visual cues and thought that his instruments were malfunctioning. Weidner descended a little lower and then abandoned the landing and tried to ascend for a missed approach. By that point, Weidner was spatially disoriented and accidentally banked the plane in a way that caused a downward spiral, crashing the plane and killing everyone on board. Representatives of Weidner and the passengers (plaintiffs) sued the United States (defendant), arguing that the air-traffic controllers had negligently caused the crash by failing to give Weidner (1) timely, accurate weather reports and (2) alternate-airport options with better weather. The district court held a bench trial on the claims.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Corrigan, J.)

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