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Reliance National Insurance Co. v. Great Lakes Aviation

May 21, 2007


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Richard Mills, U.S. District Judge


This case is before the Court on: (I) the motion for partial summary judgment filed by Defendant Rita Winkelmann; and (II) various proofs of claim for the remaining claimants, and objections to those claims.

I. Background

This case has a lengthy procedural history. Since the mandate from the Seventh Circuit remanding this action was entered on February 7, 2006, this Court on August 30, 2006 denied the motion of former party Reliance National Insurance Company*fn1 for leave to file a petition to intervene. Reliance filed a notice of appeal from that judgment. On November 14, 2006, the Seventh Circuit entered an order which provided in pertinent part, "Pursuant to Circuit Rule 33, all proceedings in this appeal are STAYED pending further court order." The case is now properly before this Court.

On June 30, 2006, Rita Winkelmann, the Executrix of the Estate of Laura Brooks, deceased, filed a motion for partial summary judgment, claiming that there are no genuine issues of material fact as to certain issues which are before the Court. Winkelmann alleges that the motion will serve to narrow the disputed issues in this case. She moves for summary judgment under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a), claiming there are no genuine issues of material fact and judgment should be entered as a matter of law declaring: (1) Neil Reinwald's negligence caused the crash making his estate liable in tort to the Passenger Defendants' representatives; (2) Neil Reinwald's estate is an "insured" under the Reliance policy; and (3) the only remaining condition each Passenger representative must prove is whether the amount already received does not equal or exceed that claimant's legal entitlement.*fn2

On November 19, 1996, United Express Flight 5925, a Beechcraft 1900C, collided with a King Air A90 at Quincy Municipal Airport, near Quincy, Illinois. At the time of the collision, the United flight was completing its landing roll on runway 13, while the King Air was in its takeoff roll on runway 04.*fn3 The collision occurred on the ground at the intersection of the two runways. The ten passengers and two crew members aboard Flight 5925 and the two occupants aboard the King Air were all killed.

In support of her motion, Winkelmann alleges that the investigation ruled out all possible causes of the crash besides pilot error. She notes the following: (1) air traffic controllers were not controlling and were not required to control traffic at the Quincy airport; (2) there were no mechanical malfunctions on either aircraft; (3) the weather was not a factor; and (4) visibility was not a problem. Neil Reinwald was the pilot in command of the King Air. Because the pilots on the United flight had announced their intention to land on runway 13, and also because the inbound aircraft with its landing lights on was clearly visible from the cockpit of the King Air, Reinwald either knew or should have known that a takeoff was too dangerous to attempt when he decided to begin the takeoff roll on runway 04.

Winkelmann further alleges that the King Air's takeoff roll violated the right of way rule set forth in § 91.113(g) of the Federal Aviation Regulations, which entitles landing aircraft and aircraft "on final approach to land" to the "right of way over [all] other aircraft." Neil Reinwald should have elected to delay his takeoff until after the United Express aircraft landed and was safely out of the way. In choosing to take off when he did, Reinwald was also guilty of careless and reckless operation in violation of § 91.13 of the Federal Aviation Regulations. The cockpit voice recorder transcript establishes that Reinwald negligently failed to state his intentions or make certain Laura Brooks, who was the other individual on the King Air, responded to the question that Flight 5925 asked approximately one minute before the collision. The main cause of the crash was Reinwald's negligence in deciding to take off when the United flight was on short final approach to an intersecting runway.

On April 22, 2003, a jury returned a verdict in favor of Rita Winkelmann and against the Estate of Neil Reinwald and Great Lakes Aviation, Ltd. in related state court litigation, finding that Reinwald's negligence was a cause of the crash and allocating 65% of the total causal fault to him. The jury's verdict was affirmed on appeal. Winkelmann claims that the state court adjudication binds not only herself and Great Lakes, who were parties to that litigation, but also Great Lakes' privy, Raytheon Aircraft Company, and Winkelmann's privy, the United Express passenger claimants.

On the day of the crash, the King Air was owned by Robert Clarkson and Harvey Imber. Clarkson and Imber were the "named insureds" who purchased liability insurance covering the King Air from Reliance, the same insurance policy that led to this interpleader action. The policy not only covered the "named insureds;" it also covered individuals who were using the aircraft with their "express permission." Neil Reinwald was operating the King Air with their "express permission."

Great Lakes and Raytheon have proffered some additional facts which they allege show that Winkelmann's motion should be denied.*fn4 They claim that she did not appeal this Court's previous judgment (wherein she was awarded $100,000) and, therefore, is without standing to challenge the Seventh Circuit's mandate.*fn5 Winkelmann asserts these facts are immaterial because they do not bear directly on any of the legal issues raised by the summary judgment motion.

Great Lakes further contends that the Passenger Defendants have previously argued that it was error for this Court to consider findings from the state court litigation in determining the proper distribution of the interpleader funds. Moreover, there is neither identity of issues nor identity of parties between the state court litigation and this action. Winkelmann claims that these allegations are immaterial because the facts proving the legal issues raised by the motion for partial summary judgment are undisputed.

Great Lakes and Raytheon next assert that at no time during the pendency of the state court litigation did they stand in privity as required to impose collateral estoppel. Winkelmann disputes that allegation, contending that Raytheon was party to the settlement agreements with the owners and passengers in the state court proceedings, and has attempted to use the contribution judgment order from the state court proceedings to its advantage in this Court. Great Lakes further contends that at no time during the state court litigation did Winkelmann and the ...

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