How much is a life worth? CK jury wrestles with fatal plane crash compensation

Robert Brisco, 46, and nine others were killed on January 17, 2004 when their Cessna plane plunged into the icy lake shortly after takeoff after an annual hunting trip at the island. Nov 18, 2019. (Photo courtesy of plaintiffs)

The estate of Bob Brisco and his brother Paul have received a small fraction of the millions of dollars in damages sought in connection to the 2004 fatal Pelee Island plane crash.

No punitive damages were awarded against air carriers Georgian Express or Owen Sound Transportation, but the estate of pilot Wayne Price got was slapped with $300,000 in punitive damages as part of the $345,000 awarded to the Brisco estate in a verdict that came down late Friday night.  None of the defendants attended court Friday for the verdict.

The jury took three hours to deliberate.

The Brisco family was seeking  $6 million in damages for mental injury, suffering, services rendered, and punitive damages.

Brisco and nine others were killed when their Cessna plunged into icy Lake Erie at 150 miles an hour during their annual hunting trip. The Transportation Safety Board (TSB) concluded the plane was overweight and covered with ice when it took off in freezing rain. The TSB also said the pilot was stressed and tired.

The defence told the court there’s no reason to award punitive damages even though Price made some bad decisions that day.

The jury was told by Brisco lawyer Jerry O’Brien that he “flew in unsafe weather. He should have said no but he didn’t.”

One defendant, Georgian Express, was accused of missing records and altering others. The jury also heard some pilots were told to sign off on training records just days after the crash in a perceived cover-up.

“They’re on us like snot on a screen door,” said O’Brien referring to the TSB investigation.

The jury was told by O’Brien they needed to punish defendants and deter others.

Defence lawyer Bob Love suggested $30,000 in damages because Georgian Express now has ladders to inspect planes, de-icer, a second crew member and a second weather check. Love also said Price has already paid with his life and didn’t know he or the others were going to die that day.

“He took off in good faith believing it was safe,” said Love.

Love added that conduct doesn’t deserve punitive damages.

O’Brien said damages for Paul Brisco are for losing the companionship of his brother and caring for Bob’s Chatham-Kent realtor and property management business. Damages were also suggested for Paul because he’s haunted by the images of the mangled plane and Bob’s mutilated body.

The court was told Bob had severe head and facial injuries and at the funeral; a towel was in the place of his head. Bob’s estate was also seeking money for the terror he suffered in his final moments.

“They killed Bob Brisco,” O’Brien said. “It was dangerous and unlawful.”

O’Brien told the jury no Georgian Express workers were ever disciplined.

“Georgian didn’t have a safety net for their operations, they had a tight rope,” O’Brien added.

The Brisco family and the lawyers declined to comment following the verdict.

The civil trial in Chatham took three weeks.

In 2007, seven victims’ families reached a private settlement. Dr. Jim Allen was the first to settle for an undisclosed amount. The Allen family was suing Georgian Express for $10.5 million.

The family of Price’s girlfriend, who was also killed in the plane crash, later settled for $1.4 million, according to her family lawyer.

A total of $73 million in lawsuits were filed against Georgian Express after the crash.