Settlement in Military Case involving Crash of Navy MH-53E Helicopter in Italy

Settlement in Military Case involving Crash of Navy MH-53E Helicopter in Italy.

The crash occurred during a routine training mission a short time after the helicopter had departed the U.S. Navy base outside of Catania in Eastern Sicily. All four crew members were killed. The Navy investigation determined that the helicopter crashed because of a fire in the number two engine.

The MH-53E is manufactured by Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation and is powered by three General Electric engines. Its mission is primarily for Airborne Mine Countermeasures, but it is also frequently used for shipboard delivery. It can operate from carriers and other warships and is capable of carrying 55 troops or a payload of up to 16 tons.

Kreindler & Kreindler and it's attorneys were highly qualified to represent the interests of the families of the troops killed in the crash. Frank Fleming flew the CH-53 helicopter, which is a predecessor version of the MH-53, while serving with the United States Marines in Vietnam. Mike Sherwin is a former U.S. Navy Intelligence Officer. Equally important, our firm has tremendous experience litigating cases involving the Government/Military Contractor Defense, which gives government contractors additional protection in lawsuits involving the products they build for the government. Success in lawsuits involving military aircraft accidents invariably turns on overcoming the defense.

The government contractor defense was first discussed by the United States Supreme Court in Boyle v. United Technologies Corp., 487 U.S. 500 (1988), which also involved a military helicopter crash. In Boyle, the Supreme Court barred the state tort liability claims involving products manufactured for the military. The Court found that such claims for design defects are preempted "when (1) the United States approved reasonably precise specifications; (2) the equipment conformed to those specifications; and (3) the supplier warned the United States about the dangers in the use of the equipment that were known to the supplier but not to the United States."

In the 20 years since the Boyle decision, plaintiffs have had some success attacking each of the three prongs of the Boyle test in individual cases. Successful litigation against government and military contractors requires a technical evaluation of the suspected product defect; a technical evaluation of the specifications set by the government for the product; and an investigation of both the testing of the product and the quantity and quality of information provided by the manufacturer to the government.

This is never an easy task, and many law firms won't accept cases which involve the defense, even when death or injury is clearly caused by a defective product. Over those 20 years Kreindler & Kreindler has earned a reputation for successfully defeating the government contractor defense, or creating such a high likelihood of success that defendants settle the cases rather than establish legal precedent that might undercut of limit its scope. This was the case in the MH-53E litigation. After a prodigious battle and years of hard fought take-no-prisoners litigation, the cases were settled on terms favorable to the families.