Tom Cruise's 'American Made' Producers Face Insurer's Lawsuit Over Plane Crash Deaths

Great American Insurance Company asserts it has no duty to cover a fatal accident from September 2015 partly because the aircraft transporting crewmembers was "used for an unlawful purpose."
Han Myung-Gu/WireImage

The various production companies behind American Made, the forthcoming Doug Liman film starring Tom Cruise as a pilot recruited by the CIA in the 1980s to try to capture drug kingpin Pablo Escobar, have hit some turbulence while facing two wrongful death lawsuits.

On Thursday, Great American Insurance Company filed its own lawsuit in federal court against Cross Creek Pictures, Imagine Entertainment, Vendian Entertainment, Quadrant Pictures, and others. The insurer is looking for a declaratory judgment that it doesn't have to provide coverage over a plane crash in September 2015.

The small plane, a Smith Aerostar 600 multiengine, ran into weather troubles and crashed in Colombia. An American crewmember, Alan Purwin, was killed as was the Colombian pilot, Carlos Berl, while a third individual, Jimmy Lee Garland, was injured.

In the aftermath, the production was briefly suspended and was renamed from Mena. Lawsuits commenced.

The widow and children of Alan Purwin alleged in the first April 2016 lawsuit that the producers "failed to ensure that Carlos Berl was competent, qualified, rested and sufficiently informed for the flight" while piloting the aircraft.

Then, Berl's family followed with its own lawsuit that blamed producers for rushing crewmembers back to Colombia because of filming delays. Their attorney claims that Berl repeatedly informed producers he had insufficient flight experience and that entreaties went ignored.

The families are not only suing the production companies, but also each other. As the litigation has evolved, the production companies may have hoped a $50 million insurance policy covering liability for "bodily injury" related to the aircraft would provide an umbrella. According to court papers, Purwin was among those listed as a "named insured" with Mena Productions and Cross Creek Productions listed as an "additional insured."   Further, according to court papers, "Quadrant, Vendian, and Imagine also seek from Great American defense and indemnity." 

Until now, there's been no suggestion — at least publicly — that Great American wouldn't cover the incident as it has been actively engaged during the wrongful death lawsuits. The Estates tendered the defense and indemnity of the actions, and Great American accepted. But on Thursday, Great American filed its complaint where it told a judge it has "reconsidered its position."

According to the complaint, allegations made in the prior lawsuits along with facts the insurer says it now knows "suggest the possibility that, at the time of the Accident, the Aircraft was being used for an unlawful purpose, or for a purpose not designated in the Declarations of the Policy, and that such use was with the knowledge and consent of an 'insured,' or an executive officer, partner, or managing agent of an 'insured.'"

Great American gets specific by claiming that the aircraft may not have been piloted by a designated individual nor piloted by someone "properly certified, qualified, and rated under the applicable law for the operation involved."

The insurer adds that the aircraft may have been piloted by a "student pilot" in the course of employment for the production companies and that this individual — presumably, Berl — was piloting without a certified flight instructor on board. As such, Great American says potential exclusions for coverage are triggered.

States the complaint, "As a result of the foregoing, Great American has no duty to defend the Estate of Carlos Berl, Cross Creek Productions, Cross Creek Pictures, Quadrant, Vendian, and Imagine against the claims asserted."

Great American is also seeking reimbursement for expenses paid to date.

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