BANGOR, Maine — A federal jury will decide whether the city of Bangor must pay additional damages to an Indiana firm because more than two years ago an airport worker accidentally pumped 100 gallons of lavatory fluid, or “blue water,” into the toilet of a private jet instead of the 7 gallons it could hold.
The trial began Tuesday in U.S. District Court and is expected to last all week.
U.S. District Judge John Woodcock, who is presiding over the trial, this summer decided many of the issues in the case after considering summary judgment motions.
Woodcock found that the city was liable for the repairs to the airplane performed by Duncan Aviation in Battle Creek, Mich., immediately after the May 24, 2007, incident. The city has reimbursed Aquila LLC of Bloomington, Ind., which owned the aircraft, more than $130,000 for that damage, according to court documents.
Aquila is owned by Sherman Rogers of Bloomington, Ind. The company buys, refurbishes and then sells corporate jets. It is seeking the difference between the $12 million its attorney claims Aquila would have received in a deal to sell the plane allegedly made a few days before the accidental overflow and the $11.2 million the plane actually sold for after the incident.
In addition to the $800,000, Aquila is seeking reimbursement for the nearly $400,000 it paid for a presale inspection before completing the sale in December 2007.
Information about who eventually purchased the plane is not included in court documents.
Aquila bought the 68-foot-long Canadair Challenger, a twin-engine, nine-passenger jet, from Caterpillar of Peoria, Ill., in 2006, the company’s attorney, Brendan Collins of Washington, D.C., told the jury Tuesday in his opening statement. In May 2007, Rogers took the plane, which had been refurbished, to the European Business Aviation Convention & Exhibition in Geneva, Switzerland, in hopes of selling it.
In a “handshake deal,” Aero Toy Stores LLC, a firm that markets new and used corporate aircraft, agreed to buy the plane for $12 million, Collins said. The plan, the attorney told the jury, was to take the plane to Aero’s home base in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and complete the sale on May 29, 2007, without a presale inspection. That went awry on May 24, 2007, when the plane landed in Bangor to go through customs, take on fuel and have the blue water in the toilet replaced, Aquila’s attorney said, and Aero backed out of the deal.
Aero’s owner, Morris Shirazipour of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., later offered $11 million for the jet and Aquila declined to sell the plane for that price, according to court documents.
Martha Gaythwaite, the Portland lawyer representing the city of Bangor, told the jury in her opening statement that Bangor “has apologized” for the overflow and reimbursed the company for the cost of repairs that resulted from it. She said that Rogers discussed selling the plane with Shirazipour, but the two did not have a deal that was legally binding.
“Mr. Shirazipour was interested,” she told the jury, “but not interested enough to put money down toward the purchase or sign a sales agreement.”
Gaythwaite also told the jury that the intensive cleanup of the plane the city paid for included replacing carpeting, carpet padding and insulation. She said that once that work was completed, the market value of the plane was not reduced as Aquila claimed.
Win or lose, the cost of the lawsuit is not expected to fall to taxpayers, Paul Nicklas, Bangor’s assistant city solicitor, said in March, shortly after it was filed. He told the Bangor Daily News that because the airport is run through a separate city enterprise account, no cost would fall to taxpayers.