Tragically, when a component on a helicopter fails, disaster often follows. Because the margin of error is so small, helicopter manufacturers have the highest responsibility to ensure their craft’s safe design and manufacture. With a large number of helicopter manufacturers based in the Delaware Valley, a court system that is well equipped to manage complex cases, and Raynes Lawn Hehmeyer’s decades of experience in representing the families of helicopter crash victims, we are regularly called upon to lead the investigation and prosecution of the families’ claims.
Counseling and representing those affected by a helicopter crash entails complex legal and technical issues. Which legal forum is best for the families in terms of discovering what happened and securing a just result? What claims can be pre-empted by FAA regulation or delegation? What law will govern the calculation of damages? What technical expertise must be gained to understand the cause of failure? Drawing upon our depth of talent, Raynes Lawn Hehmeyer has successfully tackled these issues.
Helicopters are unlike other types of aircraft. These machines give pilots the freedom to ascend and descend vertically as well as go back and forth within a few seconds. Helicopters also can operate close to the ground, where in tourist areas they can provide spectacular views, though sometimes this comes with a compromise in flight safety.
Helicopters are challenging to operate, and they are more likely to be involved in an accident than most other types of aircraft. Their small size provides little protection in the case of a malfunction. Each year, helicopters crash and result in the wrongful death of one or more occupants. If you or a loved one suffered injuries in a helicopter accident, you could seek compensation from those at fault.
Because the Philadelphia, PA area is a hub for the manufacture of helicopters and the training of helicopter pilots, Raynes Lawn Hehmeyer has repeatedly been called upon to be the lead attorneys in lawsuits filed on behalf of those injured and on behalf of the families of those killed in helicopter crashes.
For example, Raynes Lawn Hehmeyer led the international team of attorneys representing the passengers aboard a Sikorsky S-92 helicopter that crashed into the North Atlantic off of Newfoundland, Canada. Fifteen of those passengers were killed and one survived. Because Sikorsky’s final assembly plant for the S-92 helicopter is just outside Philadelphia, Raynes Lawn Hehmeyer filed suit on behalf of all 16 passengers in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas. Less than a year after the accident, every client’s case was resolved for an amount – made confidential to protect the clients – that ensured their financial security and honored those they had lost.
Investigating Helicopter Crashes
Investigating helicopter crashes involves complex technical and legal issues. There is oftentimes a cascade of events that result in a crash. These events need to be identified and evaluated. Highly skilled experts – such as those experienced in helicopter design, operation and maintenance – need to be retained as soon as possible while the evidence is still available.
It is also critically important to understand – from the earliest stages of investigation – the complicated legal issues that will profoundly affect any lawsuit related to a helicopter crash. A wrong legal decision could change a potential multi-million-dollar recovery into a recovery of a few thousand dollars. For example, a careful evaluation must be made as to where a lawsuit could be filed and the impact that choice will have upon what damages may be recovered by those injured or by the families of those killed.
Understanding the Differences Between Helicopter and Airplane Accidents
Many people underestimate the danger of helicopters. It is often said that helicopters have 100,000 moving parts, and if one malfunctions, then a crash can occur. Research has shown that, for each hour of flight, a helicopter is over forty times more likely to crash than an airplane. Helicopters fly low to the ground with buildings and other obstacles presenting a collision risk.
Since there is a higher risk of an accident, more rigorous regulations and safety protocols should be in place for the operation of helicopters. However, airplanes have higher safety standards than helicopters. There are also better safety features to keep passengers protected on an airplane in the event of a crash.
Common Causes of Helicopter Accidents
Helicopter accidents are often the result of design flaws, mechanical malfunctions, or pilot error. These factors can cause severe accidents. Your attorney will need to determine the exact cause so that you can seek compensation from the at-fault party for the accident. Some of these common causes include:
- Design flaws: Every component of a helicopter needs to be designed for use in a harsh and demanding environment, with high degrees of stress and vibration. For example, when the wrong metal is used to fabricate a component, it can fail mid-flight with disastrous results.
- Poor pilot training: A helicopter manufacturer must ensure that its Flight Manual and its training programs prepare every pilot to operate the helicopter safely, especially when a malfunction occurs. When the manufacturer or the pilot training program does not provide the necessary guidance, the pilot might not know how to respond in the precious few seconds before disaster occurs.
- Mechanical malfunctions: Helicopter maintenance crews are responsible for making sure that the aircraft operates safely. While the mechanics cannot detect all problems, there are times when improper maintenance is responsible for causing an accident. With an equipment malfunction, the error would be with the mechanic or the manufactured part. In some cases, repaired parts could have been made with faulty or defective materials.
Types of Injuries Suffered in Helicopter Accidents
Helicopter accident injuries are often severe due to the weight, size, speed, and height they fly above the ground. It is rare to receive only minor injuries in these types of accidents. Some of the common injuries include:
- Bone fractures
- Blunt force trauma
- Spinal cord injuries and paralysis
- Internal brain injuries
- Traumatic brain injuries
- Lacerations and scarring
What Compensation Can You Potentially Recover in Helicopter Accidents?
If an individual is injured or killed in a helicopter accident, you may be able to file a lawsuit to recover monetary damages from those who have caused the accident. These parties can include the manufacturer, the component part supplier, the pilot training program, the maintenance company, the company operating the helicopter, the pilots, and the owner of the aircraft.
Depending on the accident, there can be several parties who can file a lawsuit or recover damages from the accident. The person injured in the accident, the spouse of the injured party, the legal guardian, and the personal representative of the injured party’s estate may all be able to bring a lawsuit to recover damages from the responsible parties. For example, when a person suffers an injury in a helicopter accident, the injured party and the spouse may be able to claim loss of support, benefits, and other services that married couples share.
The damages one can recover varies significantly among the states, the country or international law. Some venues will allow you to recover only financial losses, while others recognize your need to seek compensation for noneconomic losses as well.
Damages in Helicopter Accidents
In a helicopter accident case, you can potentially recover three different types of damages. These damages include:
- Economic damages: You can quantify these damages in economic terms. They include medical bills, property damage, lost wages, and other financial losses.
- Noneconomic damages: These damages can include pain and suffering, physical impairment, stress, disfigurement, and other costs.
- Punitive damages: These damages are used to punish the negligent parties for reckless indifference to safety in causing the accident.
Do I Need a Lawyer for Helicopter Accident Lawsuits?
If you or a loved one have suffered injuries in a helicopter accident, you need the help of an attorney. If we accept your case, our legal team will review all of the details, protect your rights, and let you know how we can proceed. We will perform an investigation into the cause of the crash and seek compensation from those responsible for the accident.
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For attorneys: This Blog/Website is informational in nature and is not a substitute for legal research or a consultation on specific matters pertaining to your clients. Due to the dynamic nature of legal doctrines, what might be accurate one day may be inaccurate the next. As such, the contents of this blog must not be relied upon as a basis for arguments to a court or for your advice to clients without, again, further research or a consultation with our professionals.
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