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  • Writer's picturePhil Griffis

World Record Free Fall Attempt Nearly Grounded by Lawsuit

I’m not sure I could be any more intrigued than I am by Felix Baumgartner’s attempt to be the first skydiver to break the sound barrier, by jumping from a helium balloon floating 120,000 feet over the surface of the Earth.  A preview of his “jump” (I’m not sure that word adequately describes it) can be seen here

High winds caused him to scrub his initial attempts this week, and those of us fascinated by this kind of thing will remain on the edge of our seats until he makes his attempt.

What is not well known is that one of the most significant challenges to his mission was a lawsuit.  A couple of years ago, Daniel Hogan sued Red Bull, which is promoting the project. Mr. Hogan’s claim was that he had previously approached Red Bull, with the idea of breaking the longstanding free fall record. According to the suit, Red Bull rejected the idea, but later moved forward with it to the exclusion of Mr. Hogan, with Mr. Baumgartner at the helm.

Hogan asked the court to stop the project and, of course, to award him money.  His suit papers claimed that advertising proceeds from the project could exceed $600 million dollars.

Red Bull ceased the project due to the litigation, issuing the following statement:Despite the fact that many other people over the past 50 years have tried to break Colonel (Ret.) Joe Kittinger’s record, and that other individuals have sought to work with Red Bull in an attempt to break his record, Mr. Hogan claims to own certain rights to the project and filed a multi-million dollar lawsuit earlier this year in a Californian court.

I think they were being overly courteous to Mr. Hogan. I have a difficult time wrapping my head around the notion that breaking a previously set world record is a protectable “idea” that can be stolen, or that “rights” to it can be claimed. The whole idea of a world record is for someone to eventually break it.  There is hardly anything unique, novel or patentable about doing so.

Nonetheless, I can certainly understand why Mr. Hogan was unhappy. Eventually, however, a confidential settlement was reached and the project moved forward. Hopefully we can now watch Mr. Baumgartner successfully, and safely, break the record.


Phil Griffis obtained his first jury verdict in 1990, when he convinced a jury that a customer’s fall at his client’s store did not cause the customer’s aspiration pneumonia and stroke. In the years since he has continued to win in courtrooms across the State of Texas.

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