Full Value Settlement Reached in EH101 Merlin Helicopter Crash Case
- A United States Navy pilot was injured in a helicopter accident while on assignment with the British Royal Navy.
- Suit was filed against AugustaWestland, the helicopter manufacturer, in New York to keep the product liability case in the U.S.
- To avoid a forum non conveniens ruling, it was argued that the case had significant public interest in the U.S. because the same defective parts were being integrated into the helicopter manufactured in New York under a joint venture with Lockheed Martin.
- Kreindler & Kreindler’s East and West Coast offices used their combined expertise and reputation to obtain a settlement for full value.
Client v. Finmeccanica, originating in our California office and litigated in New York, is representative of the synergy between Kreindler & Kreindler’s East and West Coast offices. The case also highlights how the firm’s expertise, resources, reputation and global reach can induce a settlement, even in a case where jurisdiction in the United States is problematic.
In 2004, the client was a United States Navy helicopter pilot on assignment with the British Royal Navy. On March 30 of that year, the client was aboard an EH 101 Merlin helicopter when it crashed in Culdrose, England, after a catastrophic tail rotor failure. He suffered extensive injuries in the crash, including multiple fractures to most of his body, lung damage and a closed head injury.
From the outset of the case, the challenge was to keep the product liability case in the United States despite the fact the helicopter was designed, manufactured and maintained in Europe by AugustaWestland (in a joint venture between British and Italian companies), and the crash, wreckage and most of the liability witnesses were in England.
Suit was filed in federal court in New York because AugustaWestland, in a joint venture with Lockheed Martin, was manufacturing a helicopter derivative of the EH 101 in upstate New York. Predictably, the defendants moved to dismiss the case for lack of personal jurisdiction and on the basis of forum non conveniens (the refusal to hear a proceeding on the basis of inappropriate forum). The defendants argued that all liability evidence and witnesses were in England and the British Ministry of Defense was a necessary party and could not be sued here. We countered that the military doctors who treated the client were in the United States and argued that the case had significant public interest here because the same defective parts were being integrated into the helicopter manufactured in New York under the joint venture.
The settlement was a result of meticulous preparation of the liability and damages sides of the case.
Prior to the motions being decided, the parties agreed to mediation. California partner Stuart Fraenkel and New York partner Brian Alexander took the lead and were joined by Boston counsel Susan Friery, J.D., M.D., whose medical training was invaluable in articulating the client’s injuries and damages. The case settled at mediation for full value. The settlement was a result of meticulous preparation of the liability and damages sides of the case, including a life-care plan for the client and a fact-based projection of the impairment of his future earning capacity.
The settlement, which came as the dismissal motions were pending, was motivated by the clear message that the Kreindler team sent to the defendants: we will continue to fight for our client regardless of the outcome of the motions — whether in the U.S., in England or in Italy. And we were able to impress upon the defendants that the result would not be different in any of these jurisdictions.
New York associate Michael Sherwin also assisted on the case.
Photo Credit: EH101 Merlin helicopter, Phil Webber