Giraud v. HSI Productions, Inc.

Giraud v. HSI Productions, Inc. - Kreindler & Kreindler LLP assembles a team to recover a downed helicopter and the crash victims off of a remote glacier, which leads to a successful wrongful death prosecution.

The Giraud family contacted Kreindler & Kreindler LLP attorney Francis G. (Frank) Fleming, a senior attorney in the New York office, who is a former marine helicopter pilot and has handled aircraft accident litigation for more that 27 years at the firm. He in turn assembled a team of attorneys to investigate and prosecute the Giraud family's claims. Justin Green, a partner in the New York office and also a former marine helicopter pilot, and Gretchen Nelson a partner in the Los Angeles office joined the prosecution of the Los Angeles based lawsuit.

A lawsuit was filed in California against the known defendants and certain "Doe" defendants that were unidentifiable, but without the wreckage there were too many unanswered questions which could hinder the case. Canadian authorities had abandoned its wreckage recovery efforts some time before.

It was decided that the firm would organize and fund a private recovery mission to the Llewellyn Glacier. Air safety expert and former National Transportation Safety Board investigator Douglas Herlihy was brought in to coordinate the expedition. In June of 2001, Doug Herlihy and Kreindler & Kreindler assembled a team of world class ice climbers and glacier recovery specialists, as well as helicopter pilots, vessel and land support personnel.

One month later the expedition landed on the glacier, established a base camp on the northern boundary of the Llewellyn Glacier ice field, and explored the crevasse where the helicopter had crashed.

The Kreindler team was able to recover three of the four victims of the crash, including Paul Giraud, and a majority of the wreckage off the glacier.

As a result of the evidence collected, the complexion of the wrongful death litigation changed and a new defendant was identified. Specifically, the on-scene investigator was able to determine the manufacturer of the camera mount affixed to the nose of the helicopter. He also found that no counterweights were installed to counterbalance the weight of the camera and the mount, which could compromise the center of gravity of the aircraft and render it difficult to control.

The original complaint was amended to specifically name Tyler Camera Systems, the camera mount manufacturer as a defendant.

The claims against the helicopter operator and all defendants other than the camera mount manufacturer were settled for a substantial sum.

The camera mount manufacturer moved for summary judgment and to dismiss based upon the statute of limitations. In opposition to the motions we pointed out that the identity of the camera mount manufacturer was unknown and not reasonable ascertainable until we recovered the wreckage off of the glacier. In any event, because there was a minor child involved as a plaintiff, the statute of limitations was tolled with regard to her claim.

With respect to the merits of the case and the motion for summary judgment motion, the accident scene investigation during the recovery of the wreckage was critically important. The on-scene expert was able to establish not only that the weight of the camera, the mount and the battery altered the center of gravity of the helicopter, but that the passengers in the rear of the
helicopter were not buckled into their seats and were likely moving around the helicopter looking for the best camera shot and angle. Further, movement around the cabin with the altered center of gravity and lack of counterweights would explain the sudden loss of control which caused the helicopter to clip the ice above the crevasse.

Nevertheless, the trial court granted defendants motions and dismissed all claims against the camera mount manufacturer. That order was appealed.

In a sweeping victory for the family of Paul Giraud, a California Appeals Court reversed the trial judge and reinstated the case against the camera mount manufacturer, finding that the amendment of the complaint to specifically name the defendant mount manufacturer related back to the original filing of the complaint and that summary adjudication was inappropriate.

The underpinnings of both of these rulings by the appeals court are directly related to Kreindler & Kreindler LLP's efforts to recover the victims and the wreckage from the crevasse of the remote Llewellyn Glacier. Though the investigation of the Giraud case presented a unique factual circumstance, in other respects the firms efforts are no different than in any other case. Each case accepted by the firm is fully and independently investigated, no stone is left unturned and nothing is taken for granted. The tremendous and varied skills of the Giraud team included piloting, engineering, on-site investigation, litigation and appellate practice.

After the Appeals Court reinstated the claims against Tyler Camera Systems, the final piece of the case settled for a confidential sum. This ended a nearly eight year crusade for justice.