ALBUQUERQUE – A New Mexico jury on Thursday awarded $3.86 million in damages to a Florida man who was injured in a hot-air balloon accident in Albuquerque three years ago.
Jurors found the pilot acted recklessly and the Balloon Fiesta organization's negligence led to an accident in which Thomas Hurd suffered debilitating injuries.
The jury found pilot Timmerly Eklund responsible for 60 percent of the judgment and the fiesta must pay 30 percent, The Albuquerque Journal reported.
Hurd, of Port Charlotte, Fla., was found liable for 10 percent of the damages for negligence.
Hurd, 72, was a passenger in Eklund's balloon on Oct. 5, 2009.
The lawsuit claimed he fell out of the gondola after it struck a tent on the outskirts of the fiesta field. Hurd suffered a crushed pelvis, a broken back and hip socket, a crushed heel and other injuries that required multiple surgeries.
Because Hurd signed an acknowledgment of risk before taking the balloon flight, he released any negligence claims against Eklund, the Journal reported. It was up to the jury to determine if she was reckless.
The release did not waive negligence or recklessness claims against the Balloon Fiesta.
Eklund said in testimony that she dropped to a height of about 15 feet during a fiesta competition, well below a 75-foot height requirement.
She said she forgot about the requirement but attempted to maneuver past the vendor's tent by firing a burner. She admitted responsibility for the accident but denied that she was reckless.
During the nearly two-week trial, Hurd's attorneys argued that the fiesta didn't take adequate steps to prevent low flying and placed a tent too close the competition area.
Fiesta officials said the annual event's low rate of serious accidents shows it has taken the needed precautions to protect balloonists and the accident was caused by pilot error.