The family of a famous skydiving videographer blames a Las Vegas company and another skydiver for his death, the family's attorney said in opening statements Thursday in the jury trial of a lawsuit. In the suit against Michael Hawkes, his company -- Skydive Las Vegas -- and local teacher and skydiver Joseph Herbst, the parents and brother of Vic Pappadato claim that Hawkes has a long history of violating safety rules and on the afternoon of May 10, 1998, allowed a group to dive even though some of them had been partying the previous evening.
The family's attorney said those mistakes led to Pappadato's death.
The plaintiffs' attorney, Frank Sabaitis, told jurors that Vic Pappadato, 33, agreed to videotape the dive for a friend, who was celebrating a birthday. Pappadato had more than 5,000 jumps to his credit.
The group was supposed to jump from the plane, form a circle and then move away from each other as Pappadato taped the event, Sabaitis said. At least one of the members lacked the skills necessary to move into the circle and struck Pappadato, the attorney said.
Pappadato continued the taping, but when it came time for him to deploy his parachute at 4,000 feet he could not.
When Pappadato was forced to deploy his chute seconds later to avoid hitting a skydiver below him who was opening his own chute, the lines of Pappadato's chute became entangled, Sabaitis said.
Before he could straighten the lines or deploy his alternate parachute Pappadato was struck by Herbst, Sabaitis said. He then fell to his death.
Sabaitis said that although two of the divers later said they either smelled alcohol or had attended a party the night before, the others joined ranks and blamed Pappadato for the tragedy.
Pappadato's video of the jump will show the other jumpers were at fault, Sabaitis said.
"He was a compulsive safety nerd," Sabaitis said. "He was obsessive, and yet the defense is that Vic Pappadato made all of the mistakes that day."
Greg Miles, who represents Hawkes, said many of the Pappadatos' witnesses are disgruntled former employees of Hawkes', and that his client had no reason to suspect anyone was intoxicated that day, he said.
Herbst's attorney, Imanuel Arin, said the evidence will clearly show Pappadato deviated from the plan during the jump. Herbst was below Pappadato when Pappadato struck him, and the "low man always has the right of way."
Jurors this week also are scheduled to hear a countersuit filed by Herbst against Pappadato.
~ LAS VEGAS SUN