Michael Terhar // Partner

Mike Terhar heads Cunningham Swaim’s California office located in Pasadena. With more than 30 years of litigation experience, his litigation work is as diverse as California itself — from aviation litigation, to product and premises liability cases, to accidents involving sports and recreation. Mike has handled numerous cases in the movie industry — most notably his defense of director John Landis in wrongful death lawsuits related to the filming of the “Twilight Zone” movie in 1983. And, at one point in his career, Mike even defended the King of Pop himself, Michael Jackson, in an auto accident case.

Mike’s aviation practice has included the defense of multiple airlines, both public entity and privately-owned airports, airport management companies, airport security companies and aircraft component makers, fixed base operators, A&P mechanics, Part 145 repair/overhaul facilities, and pilots. He has defended non-aviation manufacturers in all manner of product liability cases including ladders, scaffolds, fire suppression systems, alarms, automobile components, manufacturers and maintainers of pool and spa equipment and surgical equipment. In the course of doing so he has handled cases all over the western United States including not only California, but Oregon, Washington, Arizona and Utah.  He is the West Coast regional defense counsel for Werner Co., the largest ladder manufacturer in the United States.

In the field of sports and leisure accidents, he has defended the American Youth Soccer Organization, the American Softball Association, USA Hockey, USA Gymnastics, Boys and Girls Clubs and numerous other youth sports leagues, summer camps, martial arts and gymnastics academies, equestrian facilities and public entities operating sports fields and facilities in personal injury and wrongful death cases.  He has been a guest lecturer before some of these organizations on liability issues including primary assumption of risk and express waiver and release agreements.  He has held Red Cross certificates as a water safety instructor and lifeguard, P.A.D.I. scuba diving, and was an AYSO Advanced level soccer referee.


Practice Areas

Complex civil litigation, including:

  • Aviation-accident cases, representing airlines, aircraft manufacturers, airports and aviation-related businesses
  • Representation of major entertainment industry companies, producers and individuals in a variety of claims for wrongful death and personal injuries.
  • Personal injury and wrongful death cases involving product and premises liability
  • General liability including discrimination


Representative Experience

  • Defended the helicopter pilot/aerial stunt coordinator in an accident during the filming of the movie “XXX” in which a helicopter and motorcycle stunt man collided off a jump and the rider sued the helicopter operator; obtained summary judgment for the pilot and his company based upon co-employee defense.
  • Handled lawsuits arising from personal injury accidents during production of the films, “Kindergarten Cop,” “Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man,” “Repo Man,” “Mom and Dad Save the World,” “Tommy,” “Showtime,” as well as the production companies involved in various scripted and reality TV shows.
  • Represented assistant managers and managers in class action wage and hour case against California movie theatre chain resulting in settlement in favor of both classes.
  • Defended a fixed-base operator who rented an aircraft to a pilot who crashed on takeoff, resulting in four fatalities; plaintiffs alleged the operator did not require a checkout ride.
  • Obtained an 8-minute defense verdict in product liability trial in Oregon for a manufacturer. Other defense verdicts for same manufacturer in Oregon, California and Utah.
  • Non-suit granted to airline in passenger injury claim at close of plaintiff’s case.
  • Defense verdict for a fixed-base operator who sold an aircraft that subsequently sustained engine failure; plaintiff had stopped payments and brought suit for personal injuries, alleging negligent maintenance, breach of warranty and product liability. Prevailed on counter claim for unpaid installment payments.
  • Defended the general contractor in a crane accident at a commercial “tilt up” construction site that resulted in serious injuries to a subcontractor’s employee. After jury trial obtained indemnity judgment and attorney fees against co-defendant subcontractor.
  • Defended a vacuum pumping truck company in a toxic spill in Santa Barbara resulting in toxic fumes drifting into downtown closing all businesses resulting in litigation to try to create a putative personal injury class and a business interruption class; eventual dismissal on procedural grounds with no payments to either putative class or the attorneys.
  • Defended electrical outlet manufacturer in putative class action calling for inspection and replacement of wall outlets in the State of California.
  • Defended multiple concert venues and related security companies in personal injury cases involving inadequate security/crowd control.
  • Defended an auto race promoter in a jury trial involving a traffic accident arising from the closure of city streets in preparation for a race; plaintiff driver, a law student, claimed brain damage and loss of legal career.
  • Defended a Supplemental Type Certificate holder in a six fatality crash on take-off of a twin engine aircraft.
  • Defense verdict for a sports arena in a parking lot accident prior to a basketball game in which a pedestrian was struck by a driver. Allegations of poor design and lack of adequate traffic control.
  • Obtain a settlement for plaintiff electrician was burned in flash/short of temporary power panel at construction site.
  • Obtained summary judgment affirmed on appeal for a martial arts studio in which the student sustained brain injury and partial paralysis in sparring class.


Published Appellate Opinions

  • Pesses v Superior Court (1980) 107 Cal.App.3rd 117, 165 Cal.Rptr. 680. Denial of remand/transfer to county of filing for damage trial following determination of liability in coordinated cases arising from PSA crash is not an abuse of discretion.
  • PT Airfast Services, Indonesia v. Superior Court (1983) 139 Cal.App.3rd 162, 188 Cal.Rptr. 628. Employer-paid charter flight on foreign airline was not part of employee-paid round trip to/from United States sufficient to confer Warsaw jurisdiction at the US destination regarding crash of charter flight.
  • Martin ex rel. Heckman v. Midwest Express Holdings, Inc. (2009) 555 F.3rd 806. Federal preemption does not apply to design of aircraft airstairs prohibiting application of state product liability law as there were no standards to be applied to the design of the airstairs when the type certificate for the original design was approved by the FAA.
  • Lewis Operating Corp. v. Superior Court. (2011) 200 Cal.App.4th 940, 132 Cal.Rptr.3rd 849. Case of first impression in California holding that express waiver and release in apartment lease releasing landlord for liability for tenant injuries arising from use of apartment complex gym was not void under California statute prohibiting exculpatory clauses in residential leases.


Professional Affiliations

  • State Bar of California
  • American Bar Association (Litigation, Law Practice Management, and Air and Space Law Divisions)
  • Defense Research Institute (Product Liability Committee and Sports Law Special Litigation Group)
  • Association of Southern California Defense Counsel
  • Litigation Counsel of America (Founding Fellow)


Admitted to Practice

  • All courts in the state of California
  • U.S. District Courts for the Central, Eastern, Northern and Southern Districts of California
  • U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington
  • U.S. Supreme Court



  • Loyola Law School Los Angeles, J.D., 1979
  • University of Washington, B.S., 1975


Publications and Speeches

  • Guest speaker at the annual seminar of the Association of Southern California Defense Counsel on Use and Abuse of Expert Witnesses
  • Has spoken on the legal system, primary assumption of risk and waiver and release agreements, to various sports organizations such as Region 1 of the USA Gymnastics Association



  • AV rating from Martindale-Hubbell, its highest rating in ethics and ability, for over 20 years
  • Named a Southern California Super Lawyer by Thompson Reuters from 2006-Present


Community Service

  • Metropolitan YMCA of Los Angeles Golden Book of Distinguished Service 2011
  • North Valley Family YMCA Lifetime Achievement Award 2011
  • North Valley Family YMCA Volunteer of the Year 2007
  • North Valley Family YMCA Board Chairman 2005-2008
  • AYSO Volunteer Soccer Referee


Additional Experience

  • Volunteer arbitrator and settlement officer for the Los Angeles Superior Court since 1994