Everyday throughout the world a person in seriously injured or killed as a result of a helicopter crash accidents. After extensive investigations it is often determined that the helicopter pilot or charter company was at fault. In other helicopter crashes, the cause may be in a defective helicopter part, a poorly maintained craft, a defective design of the helicopter, or from use of rebuilt or worn out helicopter parts. In order to prevail in a helicopter or general aviation crash case we must prove whose fault caused the crash wholly, or in part. In order to do this, aviation engineers, helicopter crash experts and accident investigators must be hired to study the facts of the case, interview witness to determine what or who caused the helicopter to crash. Aviation accidents involve legal theories and remedies under products liability and negligence causes of actions. Due to the nature of the injuries involved and the complexity of the product itself, often it is necessary to gather a team of legal and engineering experts in order to accelerate and push the client’s case to trial or settlement.
Helicopters transporting workers to offshore oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico have met with tragedy far too often. Since 2000, at least 40 helicopters have crashed into the Gulf of Mexico, an astounding figure. Litigation of offshore accidents involves a complicated mix of federal admiralty / maritime laws, aviation regulations and state tort laws.
For example, the Jones Act is a federal admiralty law that protects workers who are injured while working on U.S. territorial waters. When an offshore helicopter crashes into the Gulf of Mexico, resulting litigation may fall under jurisdiction of the Jones Act because the flight operation has a significant relationship to traditional maritime activity.
In addition, when offshore helicopter accidents occur beyond 12 nautical miles, the Death on the High Seas Act (DOHSA) would apply. In certain instances, this act can limit the non-economic damages, such as “care, comfort and companionship,” that plaintiffs might be entitled to receive under other statutory or common-law schemes.
Air ambulances, including medical helicopters and medical transport planes, are supposed to save lives, not take them. In the event of an air ambulance crash, patients being transported for emergency care may suffer more severe injuries or even death. In addition, the heroic paramedics, flight nurses and pilots may lose their lives or be severely injured.
Some of the contributing factors to medical helicopter accidents are flying in poor weather or at night. In most medical transport operations, the pilot decides whether to fly, often times under pressure from the first responders on the ground, such as police or ground paramedics.
Even in the best flying conditions, medical helicopters have crashed due to poor maintenance of the aircraft, poor oversight of helicopter operators by sponsoring hospitals, and inadequate pilot training.
In addition, medical helicopters are sometimes used in unwarranted situations, such as when a patient has non-life-threatening injuries. In those cases, ground ambulance transport could be the safer option.
Charter helicopters often transport busy executives, travelers on sightseeing tours, high-profile athletes, musicians, government officials and celebrities on tour. In charter helicopter operations like these, pilots might feel tremendous pressure to maintain schedules and fulfill flight commitments, even when unsafe conditions suddenly appear.
Storms, high winds, fog and heat in high altitudes are just some of the elements that put helicopters at risk. To that, add the pressure to get everybody where they want to go on time, and you’ve got a recipe for potential disaster.
In crashes involving the death of highly-paid individuals, appropriate consideration must be given to the decedent’s future earning capacity, sometimes resulting in multi million dollar recoveries for surviving family members. Future results depend on the facts of each case.