Spewing gas prompts two to sue Star Marianas


Two passengers bound for Tinian to attend a funeral in July 2016 are now suing Star Marianas Air Inc. after its aircraft allegedly turned around and made an emergency landing at the Saipan airport for failing to secure the gas tank after refueling.

Ricky Gene Mendiola Lizama and a minor, through his representative, Remy Mendiola Forhad, accuse Star Marianas Air of negligence, violation of the CNMI Consumer Protection Act, and negligent infliction of emotional distress.

Star Marianas Air, through its counsel Timothy H. Bellas, however, asserted that the plaintiffs have no basis to suppose that the fuel leak was due to a failure to secure the gas tank.

Star Marianas also pointed out that the plane landed on Saipan without any damage to the aircraft or its occupants.

Lizama and Forhad, though counsel Robert J. O’Connor, want a jury trial and are demanding unspecified damages.

According to the complaint, Lizama and the child were going to Tinian aboard a Star Marianas flight on July 17, 2016, to attend a funeral.

O’Connor said the aircraft was airborne when Lizama noticed gasoline spewing out of the plane behind its wing. The lawyer said Lizama alerted the two pilots who turned the plane around and made an emergency landing at the Saipan airport. While disembarking from the plane, Lizama and the minor child allegedly smelled gasoline fumes.

The lawyer said that improperly securing a gas tank on the airplane was a serious and egregious mistake that should never have occurred.

O’Connor said the failure to secure such an item, considering the fragility of a small plane, the preciousness of its cargo, and the heightened and strict standards that apply to aircraft safety and maintenance, was “an extraordinary reckless act.”

“As a result of this incident, plaintiffs suffered physical injuries, trauma, emotional distress and suffering. They were in a state of shock and were very nervous and frightened,” he said.

O’Connor said Star Marianas’ failure to properly care for, maintain, and make safe a passenger airplane constitutes an unfair business practice for which plaintiffs are entitled to damages and attorney’s fees pursuant to the Consumer Protection Act.

In Star Marianas’ motion to dismiss, Bellas said there is no factual basis to substantiate the plaintiffs’ labeling of the landing back on Saipan as an “emergency landing.”

Bellas said Star Marianas does not challenge plaintiffs’ negligence claim even though there are other equally plausible factual scenarios such as the gas cap could have failed or come loose during take-off.

However, Bellas said, plaintiffs have not and cannot plead that Star Marianas knew that the gas tank was not properly secured or purposely failed to secure the gas cap.

Therefore, the lawyer said, plaintiffs’ suggestion that Star Marianas knew about the open condition, but failed to warn the passengers of that fact, is pleaded solely to bolster an inappropriate Consumer Protection Act claim.

Ferdie De La Torre | Reporter
Ferdie Ponce de la Torre is a senior reporter of Saipan Tribune. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and has covered all news beats in the CNMI. He is a recipient of the CNMI Supreme Court Justice Award. Contact him at ferdie_delatorre@Saipantribune.com

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