And now the problems begin. Following the crash of the small private passenger jet carrying Jenni Rivera, the Latin music star renowned on both sides of the border, her staff and crew of two. There were no survivors.
The plane, a 1969 Lear jet 25 departed on a trip from Monterey Mexico bound for Toluca, Mexico for the event,” La Voz.” The Mexican version of the popular “The Voice” TV show.
Readers might want to skip to, “Mexico might be problematic.”
Jenni Rivera is just the latest in a long line of lost stars. Unfortunately the common denominator is always a small plane, usually chartered or owned by someone connected with the performer, usually older, and always in a situation where the performer has to be gotten from one place to another quickly. There is no time to deal with commercial flights.
This disaster is eerily similar to the Aaliyah crash at Abaco Island, Bahamas. I contacted Gerald C. Sterns firm as they were involved with that case a few years ago. Sterns said the story began after a small Cessna was chartered from the Florida mainland at last minute to ferry the up and coming pop superstar and her entourage back from a commercial shooting in the Bahamas.
The plane crashed into a marshland seconds after takeoff. Investigation revealed all sorts of prior problems with the plane and serious questions about its ownership and maintenance.
Deja vu all over again
Before that? Buddy Holly, Jim Croce, the Lynryd Skynard band; the Reba McIntire band, Ricky Nelson. Outside of the music world other high profile people such as golfers Tony Lima and Pane Stewart, and others. But as noted, the common denominator always remains the same.
In Jenni’s case reports indicated the jet was shortly into its flight at about 11,000 feet and in contact with air traffic control when they lost contact.
It was reported the wreckage was spread of many hundreds of yards in a remote area, which suggests the impact angle might have been very shallow and at high speed.
Sterns said, “The patterns are often found when a plane impacts terrain it did not know was there, as in a disorientation, weather or dark night crash. Investigators call this, “controlled fight into terrain”.”
Mexico might be problematic
The investigation will be headed by Mexican authorities, but the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board will be involved, since the plane was of U.S. manufacture and bore a U.S. registration (tail number.) It was owned by a Las Vegas talent management firm. Sterns caution that the investigation can be expected to be a long, grueling, and difficult process.
There are reports that this jet had been in a prior accident, so it current condition and maintenance and repair history will be have a huge impact to the case.
As with any crash with serious losses a host of legal issues are present. Not the least of which will be what law will be applied to determine the quantification of losses.
Historically, Mexican states have allowed very little legal compensation for wrongful death, almost always a fraction of what might be the damages under U.S. law. Sterns said what law might apply will be controlled by where any court case or cases arising out of this are heard. Jenni’s family legal team, whoever that turns out to be will be well advised to make every effort to have the case heard in a U.S. court, regardless of the fact that the accident happened in Mexico.
Jenni was a mother of five and a grandmother as well. Because of her enormous earnings history and future potential there are devastating economic losses to her dependents. But there are problems.
The application of a U.S. law of damages, either under Nevada Law, where owners of plane are based, California law, Jenni’s domicile, or some other U.S. state, as in maybe the location of the charterer or employer of the pilots, would be most necessary to the dependents recovering some of those losses.
Problems with insurance
One very important question will be the issue of insurance. Gerald Sterns said,
“We have found over the years, indeed in some of these high profile cases noted above, the operator, owner, charterer or lessor of these sorts of planes that are so often used to ferry high profile entertainment or other celebrity personnel around quickly do not carry adequate liability insurance coverage, or sometimes none at all.”
Sterns further added,
“There are no federal and few state laws that mandate such. Additionally the FAA rules and regulations as to what is a “charter” as opposed to a “lease” are very murky, and this can make a huge difference as to who may be responsible. If a “charter,” the charterer is responsible for the airworthiness of the plane and the competency of the crew. But if a “lease,: all that is entirely on the “lessee” the unsuspecting group who thought they had a charter and knew nothing about airplanes.”
One quick example; the managers of the Lynyrd Skynyrd band, in the middle of a most successful tour, decided that it would be more efficient and cost effective to have the band have its own plane to meet a rigorous schedule of gigs at various stops in the south. So they sought out what they thought was a charter operation to provide an old Conair passenger plane, with a new coat of paint, featuring the band logo. They did not understand the intricacies of charter v. lease nor the FAA rules. They took out no insurance to cover the trip or the band, as opposed to the plane.
After the crash (five killed; several with serious injuries) there were serious questions all around about coverage, finally resolved when we were able to bring in the bank that had financed the deal and should have known better. Later, the manager for another very successful and high profile rock band, taking a page from the Skynyrd case, made sure they had a charter, and arranged for a fifty million dollar one time Lloyds policy to cover all risks on all trips.
Sterns added, “As a footnote, we note that Lear Jet, originally of Nevada, now part of a larger corporation, cannot be held legally accountable for any defect in the design or manufacture of the Lear 25 that might be found to have been causally related to the crash. It is protected by a US federal law known as the “General Aviation Restoration Act” (GARA), which established an absolute cut off of any claims vs. the manufacturer of a general aviation aircraft, which the Lear 25 is, at 18 years after it goes into service. That time would therefore have expired in 1987. So any claim that might arise out of this crash against Lear would be barred before they existed. A lot of people when confronted with this law are shocked, but this is well settled.”
As the investigation continues, Sterns said his firm would monitor the situation, given so much as stake, and the very challenging legal problems that will be presented.
Gerald C. Sterns is a well known aviation lawyer based in California and has spent many years representing survivors and victims in air crash cases, both commercial and general aviation. He was involved in several of the cases listed above.