• Pilot Denied New Trial In New Hampshire Helicopter Crash Case
  • October 16, 2014
  • Law Firm: Sutherland Asbill Brennan LLP - Washington Office
  • The pilot of a helicopter that had to conduct an emergency landing brought a suit against the manufacturers of the helicopter, the engine, and the electronic control unit (“ECU”) for defective design. The U.S. District Court for the District of New Hampshire issued an 80-page opinion last week denying the pilot’s motion for a new trial and for relief from judgment. As the court pinpointed, there was a “staggering disconnect” between the severity of the pilot’s claimed injuries—only $7,000 in recoverable medical expenses and no other monetary damages—and the resources expended in pursuit of those alleged injuries. The defendants alleged that they spent more than $800,000 in responding to the pilot’s discovery requests, pre-trial motions in limine, and even more in proceeding through a three-week jury trial. The pilot argued that the ECU falsely registered a short circuit in one of its electronic components as an “overspeed” event, which triggered the closure of a fuel shutoff valve, or solenoid. This phenonmen is referred to as “false overspeed solenoid activation” or FOSSA. The defendants argued that the engine flame-out was the result of ingestion of ice or now that the pilot failed to properly clean from the helicopter before the flight. The jury agreed with the defendants.

    In the court’s opinion rejecting the pilot’s request for a new trial, the court rejected the plaintiff’s argument that the court erred by redacting statistics as to the anticipated rate at which FOSSA would occur from memoranda from the ECU manufacturer to the engine manufacturer because there was no evidence that this statistical deviation from the rate specified by the engine manufacturer had anything to do with this particular accident, and were testified to by one of the pilot’s expert witnesses. The court also found that the ECU manufacturer’s failure to disclose information about a crash of another helicopter just before trial started was not relevant because there was no evidence that the later accident was a FOSSA event or in any way related. The court also rejected the pilot’s argument that a new trial was necessary because the helicopter and engine manufacturers failed to disclose that they announced in product alerts (months after the trial) that the model of helicopter in question was susceptible to FOSSA from the failure of components in the ECU circuit boards. The court concluded that the pilot already knew from discovery that the defendants were aware of this problem given that the pilot’s theory of the case was that the defendants were negligent in correcting the problem. Accordingly, no new trial was necessary.