One of the planes used for the movie, a twin-engine Smith Aerostar 600, was flying from Santa Fe de Antioqia, Colombia, to Medellin when it ran into bad weather and crashed in the Andes in 2015. (Photo: ‘American Made’ movie trailer screentshot)
A 2015 Colombia airplane crash that killed two men and seriously injured a third during the filming of Tom Cruise’s upcoming film “American Made” has spun off a new dispute in Georgia, where one insurer has sued another seeking at least $450,000 in mounting legal bills.
Mounting legal bills
A declaratory judgment action filed June 19, 2017, by Allianz Global Risks US Insurance in federal court in Atlanta asks that Great American Insurance be deemed the primary carrier for multiple entities facing two wrongful death suits in California state court.
Great American has already sued many of those same defendants to shield itself from some of their legal expenses and any potential judgments.
Great American’s filings in federal court in California assert, among other things, that the pilot of the aircraft, who was killed in the wreck, may have been both inexperienced and not authorized to fly it under the terms of its policy, and that the plane may have been used for an unexplained “unlawful purpose.”
Policies of aircraft owners & film production co.
According to court filings, Great American carried a $50 million per occurrence liability policy for the owners of the aircraft and Allianz carried a $25 million policy for production company Mena Productions.
“American Made,” whose working title was “Mena,” is the story of Barry Seal, a onetime TWA pilot who turned to drug and gun-smuggling for the Medellin Cartel and was recruited by the Drug Enforcement Agency during the 1980s to try to capture cocaine kingpin Pablo Escobar.
Plane crashed in the Andes
The film, starring Cruise as Seal, is slated for release in September. Much of the production was filmed in various Georgia locales.
One of the planes used for the movie, a twin-engine Smith Aerostar 600, was flying from Santa Fe de Antioqia, Colombia, to Medellin when it ran into bad weather and crashed in the Andes in 2015.
Killed were Carlos Berl and Alan Purwin, a co-owner of Heliblack, the company that owned the plane. Jimmy Garland, owner of S&S Transportation in Cherokee County, was badly injured.
Skills & competence of pilot questioned
All three men were pilots, although Berl, who was reportedly flying the plane at the time, is described in one suit as lacking “the necessary qualifications, skill, competence, and general suitability” to manage the aircraft.
Berl’s and Purwin’s families filed separate wrongful death suits in Los Angeles County Superior Court naming multiple defendants in 2016.
Under its policy with Heliblack, Great American agreed to provide representation to some of the defendants but denied coverage to others that it claimed were not named insureds.
In May, Great American sued 14 defendants in California’s U.S. District Court for the Central District seeking declaratory judgment as to its duties to defend the dead men’s estates and other defendants involved in the movie’s production.
The Allianz policyholder is Mena Productions LLC, a California company named as defendant in the state court suit filed by Berl’s estate and the Great American action. Allianz is not a party to those lawsuits.
Great American’s alleged refusal to indemnify
In its Georgia suit, Allianz seeks a declaration that Great American is the primary carrier for any parties deemed to be “common insureds” under both policies, and that its only duty is to provide secondary and excess coverage.
The suit said Allianz has already incurred at least $475,000 defending defendants in the underlying suits, and is alone in providing a defense for three production companies that Great American has refused to indemnify.
Allianz’s lawyers, Gray, Rust, St. Amand, Moffett & Brieske partner James Brieske and Andrew Houghton and Tanya Rolo of New York’s Skarzynski Black, did not respond to a request for comment.
Great American’s lawyers in the California action also did not reply by press time.
John is a Jacksonville native who grew up on the First Coast. He graduated from Bishop Kenny High School in 1975 and went to college at Florida State University where he completed a 4-year program in 3 years. John graduated from the Florida State University College of Business in 1978 and went straight into Florida State University College of Law. While in law school, John earned a position on the prestigious Law Review Board serving as its Business Editor. As a law student, John studied in the Oxford program. He also interned with the Florida Legislature working in the Florida House of Representatives Criminal Justice Committee. John was admitted to the Florida Bar in 1981.
John began his legal career as a law school intern in the State Attorney's Office in Jacksonville in 1981. After his internship, legendary State Attorney Ed Austin hired John as a full-time Assistant State Attorney for the Fourth Judicial Circuit (Clay, Duval, and Nassau Counties). As a prosecutor, John tried jury and non-jury trial on charges ranging from DUI to Murder.
In 1983, John moved from the State Attorney's Office to begin his career in private practice. He has practiced law for 30 years on the First Coast. For the last 20 years, John and his family have made Clay County their home.
John limits his practice to personal injury and disability cases. While there are many fine attorneys in Clay County, John is one of only a few Clay County attorneys who limit their practice to personal injury and disability cases. John takes pride in helping clients resolve injury claims in ways that avoid the stress, uncertainty, and the expense of unnecessary litigation.
John is the past President of the Clay County Bar Association and has served on the Board of the Clay County Bar Association from 2009-2013. He is an active member of the Florida Bar, and the Federal Bar of the Middle and Southern Districts of Florida. He is also a member of the American Association of Justice, the Florida Association of Justice, the National Organization of Social Security Claimants' Representatives, and the National Organization of Veterans' Advocates.
Service to the Community
John is involved in the Clay County Community serving as a member and Director of the Rotary Club of Orange Park, of the Clay County Bar Association, and the Putnam County Bar Association.
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