When a small medical plane crash landed on Wendy Meister’s Riverwoods property in 2011, killing three people, its scattered debris caused long-term damage on her land and decreased its property value, according to a lawsuit filed recently.
After the Nov. 28, 2011, crash, “Meister’s home became widely known in the surrounding community as the house ‘where the plane crashed,” according to the suit filed in Cook County Circuit Court.
The suit filed Nov. 27 claims negligence against Trans North Aviation, the Wisconsin-based commercial medical air transport that owned the plane that crashed, and also against Robert W. Hendricksen Co., a Wheeling-based tree service and debris removal company hired by a third party to clean up the debris from the crash, according to the suit.
Neither company could be reached immediately Wednesday night for comment.
Meister’s home and surrounding property, in the 600 block of Portwine Road in Riverwoods, suffered at least $50,000 in property damages, including harm to its roof and its underground drainage system, according to the lawsuit. The crash also destroyed valuable old-growth trees in the yard and caused other damage to the home’s foundation and structure, according to the suit.
The crash killed the plane’s pilot and an elderly couple--a patient who had a blood infection and his wife who were returning to the Chicago area to be near family. A medic and co-pilot on board survived. Meister’s attorney, Jacob Meister, who is also her brother, said the plane crashed “within feet of her home.”
In a recording of the air traffic control communications that night, someone on board the small medical transport plane told air traffic controllers moments before the crash, "We are out of fuel and we are coasting," the Tribune has previously reported.
The suit claims the aviation company was negligent for “allowing its airplane to run out of fuel and crash on Meister’s property.”
“They ran out fuel; there’s clear liability,” said Jacob Meister.
The suit claims that Robert W. Hendrickson Co. also was negligent because it failed to distribute the weight of its trucks and other equipment on Meister’s property during clean-up, causing additional damage to the land, drainage system and the home’s foundation and structure.
The suit also claims negligent infliction of emotional distress against Trans North because Meister was “traumatized by the crash and rescue efforts, as well as the debris rising from the ground after the crash.”
Debris from the crash kept being uncovered in Meister’s property even after cleanup. Debris including a cellphone belonging to the passenger “rose up from the ground in May 2013,” according to the suit.
The suit seeks a jury trial and asks for damages related to Meister’s emotional distress and property damage.
The National Transportation Safety Board found in August that prior to the crash, the plane was consuming fuel at a faster rate than expected for the plane, and the pilot failed to recognize and compensate for the high rate of fuel consumption. The pilot also had chemicals that indicated he had ingested marijuana prior to the flight, although the level of the pilot’s impairment could be determined with the information available to the NTSB, according to the report issued Aug. 29.
“It is likely that had the pilot monitored the gauges and the consumption rate for the flight he would have determined that he did not have adequate fuel to complete the flight,” the NTSB stated in the report.