After a federal judge gave the go-ahead for Craig Breedlove to pursue his lawsuit against the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry for allegedly damaging Breedlove’s Spirit of America, museum officials decided this week to settle with Breedlove rather than let the suit go to trial.
Terms of the settlement, which Breedlove and the museum announced in a joint statement on Monday, were not disclosed.
Breedlove filed his lawsuit in June, accusing the museum – to which he’d loaned Spirit of America in August 1965 and which returned the record-breaker to him in 2015 – not only of failing to properly take care of the three-wheeler but also of cutting and rewelding the vehicle’s frame, thus causing poor panel fit, and of extending the jet engine’s intake duct mounts. In addition, Breedlove claimed the museum allowed visitors to scratch graffiti into the paint and did not return to him various parts of the vehicle, including the seat.
In his lawsuit, Breedlove asked for no less than $395,000, the estimated cost to repair the damages.
The original oral loan agreement between Breedlove – who had just finished repairing the Spirit of America after its 1964 crash at Bonneville and who had just prior scrapped his plans to use the three-wheeler to set a 600 MPH record – and the museum stipulated only that the museum would not put it on display elsewhere without Breedlove’s approval, that the museum would return the Spirit of America in case Breedlove were to make a movie about his record attempts, and that the museum would return it to Breedlove if the museum ever removed the vehicle from public display. Apparently no agreement was made regarding the upkeep or maintenance of the Spirit of America.
Breelove told the Chicago Tribune that at the time he was young and inexperienced and that he trusted the museum then based on its reputation.
“Unquestionably, the damage from the museum was much, much more severe than the crash,” Breedlove said. “It was in beautiful shape when we loaned it to them.”
The museum, which reportedly described the Spirit of America as “mint” when it notified Breedlove it would return the vehicle, said in a statement last year that “we can assure our community that the museum goes to great lengths to take expert care of all of the artifacts in our collections and we are confident that this situation can and will be resolved satisfactorily.”
Museum lawyers responded to Breedlove’s lawsuit by initially getting it dismissed. Breedlove then amended his lawsuit in October, noting that the museum, as a member of the American Association of Museums, had a duty to follow the AAM’s guidelines, which call for proper physical care for items donated or lent to museums. Chicago federal judge Ronald Guzman earlier this month sided with Breedlove.
The Spirit of America, Breedlove’s first land-speed vehicle, debuted in August 1962 and used a J-47 jet engine to propel him first past 400 MPH and later past 500 MPH. The latter run ended with Breedlove losing his parachute and brakes and the Spirit of America coming to a rest in 15 feet of water on the edge of the Bonneville Salt Flats.
Breedlove, who later surpassed 600 MPH, more recently announced that he would like to break the 800 MPH barrier. As for Spirit of America, he told the Tribune that he plans to restore it and would like to display it in another museum despite his dispute with the Museum of Science and Industry.