Plane crash lawsuit trial moved to makeshift Edgartown courtroom

In an unusual move, the Edgartown selectmen’s meeting room has been transformed into a proxy for a Dukes County Superior Court courtroom, to accommodate a civil trial now underway between a pilot and his passengers and the Cessna Aircraft Company.

The location change was required because the Dukes County Courthouse does not have wheelchair-accessible bathrooms. One of the defendants uses a wheelchair because of injuries from the crash.

Pilot Alec Naiman and his passengers, Jeffrey Willoughby and Mr. Willoughby’s teenage daughter Jessica, claim the company is responsible for a crash that occurred at the Katama airfield on June 23, 2005, when an aircraft seat malfunctioned.

Mr. Naiman and Mr. Willoughby are members of the Deaf Pilots Association. The three defendants are deaf and are relying on interpreters and sign language in the court.

The lawsuit alleges that as Mr. Naiman attempted a common maneuver to avoid an aircraft already on the grass runway, his seat catch broke, causing him to slide backward, sending the aircraft into a nose dive.

The aircraft fell about 100 feet, seriously injuring the pilot and his two passengers.

The National Transportation Safety Board ruled the probable cause of the accident was the pilot’s failure to maintain airspeed and that his hearing impairment was a factor in the crash.

The trial, expected to last four to six weeks, began Monday at Edgartown Town Hall.