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May 2016

Los Angeles Team Wins Defense Verdict in Wrongful Death/Design Defect Case after Helicopter Accident

Gordon & Rees Los Angeles Senior Partner Stephen Ronk, Partner Anthony Bellone and Senior Counsel Erika Shao obtained a defense verdict on May 13, 2016 against three top rated aviation plaintiffs’ firms involving a multiple fatality helicopter accident after nearly four weeks of jury trial.

Gordon & Rees represented the world’s best-selling helicopter manufacturer. Plaintiffs alleged that the helicopter’s drive system was defective in design causing a mechanical failure that led to the helicopter losing power to the main rotor blades in flight and crashing. Plaintiffs asserted that the pilot attempted a last ditch autorotation, but failed due to the defective design of the helicopter and a lack of proper warnings regarding emergency procedures. The defense contended that the crash was a result of pilot error. The defense argued that the pilot made a series of poor decisions during the accident flight culminating in a final error in judgment in deciding to take off on the final leg of the flight at night, and flying into an area of low clouds, possible fog and poor visibility. The loss of visibility and the pilot’s reference to the horizon resulted in the pilot becoming spatially disoriented, losing control of the helicopter and impacting the hilly terrain near Blanco, Texas. The pilot and his two passengers were killed in the accident. The families of the two passengers brought suit alleging design defect, failure to warn and negligence. At trial, they sought approximately $3,000,000 in economic loss and “several times that” in non-economic damages as well as punitive damages.

Plaintiffs were represented by five trial attorneys during the trial. Eight experts testified on weather, helicopter design, piloting and polymeric materials. The jury spent approximately two hours and forty-five minutes in deliberations before returning a defense verdict on all claims.

Prior to trial, plaintiffs served offers to compromise in the total amount of $5,000,000.

Anthony J. Bellone
Stephen E. Ronk
Erika L. Shao