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Port Charlotte Man Awarded $3.83 Million in Balloon Accident

Posted on November 6, 2012

A New Mexico jury has awarded a 72-year-old Port Charlotte man $3.86 million in damages after finding that the pilot of a hot air balloon was reckless and the Balloon Fiesta organization was negligent in a 2009 balloon accident that left the Florida man with debilitating injuries.

The man had been a passenger in the balloon during the 2009 Balloon Fiesta in New Mexico when the tragic aviation accident occurred. The pilot had dropped the balloon to about 15 feet above the ground, well below the fiesta’s 75-foot height requirement. The balloon’s gondola then struck a vendor’s tent on the outskirts of the fiesta field.

The passenger was knocked out of the gondola and plummeted to the ground. He suffered a crushed heel, a broken back and hip socket, a crushed pelvis, and multiple injuries that required surgery.

Although the passenger had signed a waiver that released the pilot from any negligence claims, his attorney claimed the pilot had been reckless; a distinction the waiver did not cover. The attorney also argued that the fiesta organizers hadn’t taken adequate steps to prevent pilots from flying too low and had placed the tent too close to the competition area. The signed release did not waive negligence or recklessness claims against the Balloon Fiesta organization.

After deliberating for nearly two days, the jury mostly agreed with the plaintiff’s contentions; saying the pilot was 60 percent liable, the organization was 30 percent liable, and the passenger was 10 percent liable because he had signed the waiver.

The pilot admitted responsibility for the accident, but denied she had been reckless. She said she had simply forgotten about the height requirement and had tried to avoid the tent. The fiesta claimed it had taken proper precautions and that the accident had been pilot error.

Even if you’ve signed a waiver, it doesn’t mean that you’ve signed away your legal rights. Personal injury attorney Eddie Farah at Farah & Farah understands the distinctions and provide the knowledgeable legal representation you will need to hold responsible parties liable for your injuries. If you’ve been injured due to another’s recklessness or negligence, call us at (800) 533-3555 for a free consultation.