Mechanical Failures Ruled to Have Caused Fatal Helicopter Crash
By Michael Verna on May 15, 2016
A jury awarded more than $70 million to the family of a pilot killed and to a pilot injured in a 2008 California helicopter accident. The verdict came after a long trial in which General Electric, the manufacturer of the malfunctioning engine, tried to shift liability for the accident to the pilots' negligence and an overloaded craft. Though the accident occurred in California, the trial was held in Oregon because that is where the victims lived.
About the California accident
Firefighters fighting a fire in an area near Redding, California were traveling in a Sikorsky S-61N helicopter on August 5, 2008, according to the National Transportation Safety Board. They were heading back to their base at about 7:45 p.m. on when the chopper's engine abruptly stopped working. The helicopter fell to earth over the Trinity Alps Wilderness, a rugged area that is very difficult to access. Nine firefighters died in the crash and an additional four were injured.
The central issue at trial was the cause of the helicopter accident. The cause was either a well-known engine problem related to a fuel control valve or an overburdened craft. Defendant General Electric, the manufacturer of the engine, argued the helicopter was 1,400 pounds overweight, and that the pilots used inaccurate weight and power data to determine the helicopter's lift capability, according to a report published in The Oregonian. The plaintiff's attorney asserted that GE was aware of the engine defect for six years and that the same valve issue contributed to the failure of one of the helicopter's two engines.
Finding the source of the negligence
In a civil case, the job of the jury is to determine whether the plaintiff demonstrated that the defendant was negligent or at-fault. Similar to California, Oregon has comparative fault for personal injury cases, so in addition to determining whether a defendant was at fault, the jury also had to apportion the negligence among the defendants and determine whether the plaintiffs' negligence played a role in causing the accident. According to The Oregonian, the jury found that GE was 57 percent negligent because of the engine issue.
Carson Helicopters, the company that supplied the information about the helicopter's lift capacity to the firefighters, was ruled to be 23 percent negligent. However, the judge had dismissed the helicopter company from the case. The remaining 10 percent negligence was deemed to be the fault of Sikorsky, the helicopter manufacturer. The victims and their families settled out of court with Sikorsky, however, so Sikorsky is also not responsible for paying portion of the verdict.
Consult with a helicopter accident attorney
While about only 150 civil helicopter accidents happen every year, according to the Federal Aviation Administration, about 22 helicopter accidents result in fatalities each year. Since helicopter accidents are so rare, it's important you receive assistance from a personal injury attorney with helicopter accident experience if you or a loved one has been injured in a helicopter crash.