Lawyers from Fitzpatrick & Hunt’s Los Angeles office recently defended a helicopter manufacturer in a product liability lawsuit involving a U.S. Marine Corps helicopter.
Equity partner James W. Hunt and partner Christopher S. Hickey defended Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation at trial. The company was facing a request for $46 million in damages regarding the sale of the CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter to the Navy in 1990 and its use during a tragedy in 2011.
On March 17, 2011, Marine Corps Sergeant Alexis Fontalvo was acting as an aerial observer on a CH-53E helicopter training mission out of Marine Corps Air Station Miramar (North of San Diego). Prior to take-off, the helicopter’s left main landing gear experienced an uncommanded retraction after Sgt. Fontalvo forcibly and inappropriately removed a landing gear safety pin from the left main gear. The helicopter fell on Sgt. Fontalvo, resulting in his death. A landing gear safety pin is designed to mechanically prevent an aircraft’s landing gear from retracting while the aircraft is on the ground, but is removed prior to flight so that the landing gear can be retracted after takeoff. According to the Navy’s investigation report, the utility hydraulic module, which operates to extend and retract the landing gear, had been inappropriately energized to command retraction of the landing gear because of an errant transfer of current between two deteriorated, bare wires. Thus, at the time of the accident, only the landing gear pins were preventing gear retraction, and when Sgt. Fontalvo succeeded in forcing the left landing gear safety pin out, the gear retracted.
Fontalvo’s family brought the suit against Sikorsky but ultimately to no avail; a San Diego jury deliberated for 80 minutes before returning a verdict in favor of the defendant.
As Fitzpatrick & Hunt, Pagano, Aubert, LLP, the firm was prominently featured in New York’s Leading Lawyers 2018, which appears in New York magazine’s print and online editions. View their profile here.