A Merced family whose 18-year-old son died in a 2016 parachute accident, was awarded a $40 million dollar judgment this week. The verdict was against the owner of a Lodi skydiving school with a tragic history. The attorney representing the family of Tyler Turner, said the multimillion-dollar penalty is significant not only because of the amount, but because it specifically targeted the owner of the skydiving school Skydivers Guild Inc., Bill Dause. When contacted Dause declined to discuss the lawsuit saying: “We appreciate your call, but no comment.”
The victims Attorney Van Der Walde said after the verdict “We are hoping this will allow us to get this place closed or be sold to a responsible owner who can operate it safely.” Van Der Walde and the Turner family sued Skydivers Guild Inc. and Dause alleging negligence. Tyler Turner and his tandem skydiving instructor plunged to their death in August of 2016. Investigators said Turner and his instructor fell 13,000 feet when the instructor, who was harnessed to Tyler was unable to deploy their parachutes.
“He (the instructor) was still under a probationary period when they did the jump,” Van Der Walde said. “And he did not have the appropriate emergency training.” Tyler Turner’s death was one of nearly two dozen fatalities that have happened at the center since 1981, Van Der Walde said and he wanted to try and prevent any more accidents. In the past, Dause would create new operating companies to try and shield himself from tax liabilities and penalties, Van Der Walde said.
The proposed order signed by San Joaquin County Superior Court Judge Barbara Kronlund on Monday read as follows “Following court trial Bill Dause is found to be the alter ego of Skydivers Guild Inc. and is responsible for their entire judgment of $40,030,000.” Tyler Turner’s mother Francine Salazar Turner was relieved that nearly five years of litigation are over. She misses her son terribly and wants to use the judgment money to start a scholarship fund in her son’s name. Tyler was a straight-A student at Pacheco High School with a 4.3 grade point average.
Turner’s tragic death provided the impetus for the passage of Tyler’s Law in 2017, which tightened up the regulations for skydiving and sports parachuting operators. Under that law, the owners and operators of skydiving or sport parachuting operation – to the extent allowed by federal law have a duty to ensure that the parachutist in command of a tandem jump and the parachute rigger responsible for packing a parachute are in compliance with all federal laws relating to parachute safety and certifications.
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