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$270,000 Hot Air Balloon Strikes Powerlines

The plaintiffs were a family of four (father, mother, two young adult daughters) who paid the defendant to take them for a hot air balloon ride in Central Massachusetts. Prior to take off the defendant required each plaintiff to sign a purported release and arbitration agreement. The defendant attempted to land in a congested residential area and struck powerlines causing an electrical fire which burned the father and one of the adult daughters (the incident also knocked out power to a portion of the town of Clinton). Although the FAA merely gave defendant a warning, plaintiffs were prepared to offer evidence and expert testimony that the defendant violated numerous Federal aviation regulations including those prohibiting flying the balloon below 1000 feet over a congested area and those requiring the keeping of up to date logbooks. Plaintiffs were also prepared to present evidence that the defendant overloaded the balloon beyond its maximum allowable weight to maximize his per passenger revenue, failed to take well accepted safety precautions and had a well documented history of prior and subsequent mis-landings (some of which had also been featured in the media) which were also inexplicably ignored by the FAA. The injured father sustained burns to his face, neck, arm, leg and hand. He also had a non-displaced foot fracture caused during balloon unloading after the crash. The injured daughter sustained burns to her hands and forearm. Both were treated as outpatients and had relatively good cosmetic results. The wife and other adult daughter sustained no physical injuries and received no treatment for their emotional distress. After defeating defendant’s motion to dismiss based on the purported release, the case settled after two mediations. The available insurance policy limited coverage to any one injured passenger to a maximum of $100,000. Accordingly, both injured plaintiffs each received the maximum available $100,000 and the two emotional distress plaintiffs received $50,000 and $20,000 respectively.

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