Shortly after posting "Tips for Surviving an Airplane Crash", comes this report that settlement has been reached with the family of a flight nurse and a paramedic who died in a helicopter crash in Texas. Not surprisingly, considering the findings of my previous post on these issues, the NTSB to pilot error and weather conditions; probable cause was determined to be:
“…the pilot’s failure to maintain aircraft control resulting in the helicopter impacting the water". Factors contributing to the accident were the pilot’s inadvertent flight into instrument meteorological conditions, and the low ceiling, dark night conditions, and the pilot’s lack of recent instrument flying experience.”
The National Weather Service reported sustained winds from 25 to 30 mph on the night of the crash, gusting to 40 mph. A fog bank is also reported to have hampered visibility.
The families were represented by Rosenthal & Watson, an Austin area (Texas) lawfirm, which, obviously, did an excellent job for its clients. Raul Garcia, 40, and Michael Sanchez, 39 were killed in the crash. An aviation expert opined that the pilot experienced spatial disorientation when encountering low clouds near where landing was supposed to occur. The law firm also alleged that the pilot was inexperienced in using instruments to navigate rather than sight, although the helicopter owner, Metro Aviation, had a policy requiring all pilots to attend monthly instrument training sessions.
Too late to avoid tragedy, but as the usual result of these types of lawsuits, Metro Aviation has implemented changes to enhance safety when conducting operations. These changes include improved instrument proficiency training, the requirement that night-vision goggles be provided to all pilots, and an end to all open-water approaches. Pilots have also been instructed to turn down flights if weather conditions, ceilings or visibility are at minimum safety thresholds.
Serious injury or wrongful death accidents caused by someone else’s negligence, if handled by attorneys who specialize in the appropriate area of practice, will often result high settlements or jury verdicts. That was certainly the case in this tragic helicopter crash. Selfish business interests will cry "lawsuit abuse" or "jackpot justice" and argue that we need caps on damages. I would not trade my good health or the health or life of a loved one for a multi-million dollar verdict and I am certain no one reading this would either. People should triumph over corporate profit and greed. Human life should be considered more important in our society than business life. Safety should also be more important than profits. Simple, inexpensive, safety measures would have prevented this tragedy, and as a result of these senseless deaths, such simple measures have been implemented. Serious injury lawsuits always result in improved safety. The continuation of unsafe practices is, simply, too expensive, once the lack of safety measures are exposed. If we support those who say the cost in dollars is too high (caps on damages; "tort reform"), we will pay, dearly, in human suffering and death. Our system was created to punish the guilty and insure better and safer conduct and products. The threat of a lawsuit does that better than any other safety tool on our planet. Eroding consquence will erode safety.
Attorney, certified civil mediator, and award-winning author of the Zachary Blake Betrayal Series. Mark Bello is also a member of the State Bar of Michigan, a sustaining member of the Michigan Association for Justice, and a member of the American Association for Justice.