Three families whose loved ones were killed when a plane crashed near Kerrville in 2019 have been awarded $12.1 million by a Harris County jury.
The probate court jury deliberated for about five hours before returning its verdict around 5:30 p.m. Monday, finding the pilot was on the clock for financial services firm Raymond James & Associates when the crash occurred.
Jeffrey Weiss, 65, was an employee of Raymond James and the pilot of the twin-engine Beechcraft Baron 58 aircraft that took off from West Houston early in the morning on April 22, 2019, headed for Kerrville. The National Transportation and Safety Board later concluded a lack of fuel caused the crash that killed everyone on board.
The purpose of the flight was to take prominent Houstonians Stuart R. Kensinger, a real estate investor, and Angela Webb Kensinger, a lacrosse coach at St. John’s School, to their ranch house near Hunt, Texas, that they were remodeling. The three others on board were brought to help that project along — architect Scott Reagan Miller and landscape architects Marc Tellepsen and Mark Scioneaux.
Richard Mithoff represented the families of Tellepsen and Scioneaux and told The Texas Lawbook that the biggest hurdle to securing the verdict in favor of his clients was proving Weiss, a financial advisor, was acting “in the course and scope” of his employment when he was piloting the plane that morning, despite a policy in place at Raymond James forbidding its employees from piloting private planes for business purposes.
Evidence was presented to the jury that Weiss had sought and received reimbursement from Raymond James for similar trips in the past, including one with the Kensingers. And the jury also saw evidence that Raymond James had considered Weiss to be on-the-clock the day of the crash.
Raymond James’ attorneys had suggested to jurors during opening statements that Weiss’ reimbursement requests for flights such as this one amounted to a fraud on the company, which Mithoff said opened the door for some key questions.
Mithoff said he asked the corporate representative of Raymond James, a publicly-traded company, about whether that alleged fraud had been reported to anyone at Raymond James, and whether it prompted any sort of inquiry of possible fraud by those turning in requests for reimbursement and those approving reimbursements. Mithoff said the representative told jurors he wasn’t in a position to answer that question.
“I made maximum usage of that in closing argument,” he said.
The panel began hearing testimony Nov. 29 and returned its verdict Dec. 5.
The jury found that Weiss’ negligence caused the accident and that he was acting “in the course and scope” of his employment with Raymond James at the time of the crash.
The jury awarded Stanton Welch, who was married to landscape architect Scioneaux, $2.8 million in damages.
The jury awarded Jennifer Tellepsen, who was married to landscape architect Marc Tellepsen, $5.3 million. Their daughter and son, unnamed minors, were awarded $250,000 each.
Ann Christiansen, who was married to architect Scott Reagan Miller, was awarded $2.75 million, and their three sons were awarded $250,000 each.
The jury awarded no damages to the parents of Marc Tellepsen and Scott Reagan Miller.
The lawsuit was filed in November 2019, according to court documents. Harris County Probate Court No.2 Judge Michael Newman presided over the case.
Ladd Sanger of Slack Davis Sanger represented the Miller family.
The Tellepsen and Scioneaux families were also represented by Warner Hocker of Mithoff Law.
Raymond James was represented by Ross Cunningham, Don Swaim and Alex Whitman of Cunningham Swaim.
Weiss’ estate was represented by Brendan P. Doherty of Gieger Laborde & Laperouse.
The case number is 477, 158-401.