By David Baugher
Missouri Lawyers Weekly
An Iowa helicopter crash that left three dead has resulted in a settlement of more than $5.1 million for the family of a flight nurse who was on board.
“The argument was that the policies of the helicopter operator were defective and deficient because they allowed flight into known icing conditions,” said Gary Robb of Robb & Robb in Kansas City. “The FAA prohibits that.”
Robb, who represented the parents, children and spouse of the nurse in the matter, said that ice can accumulate on the main rotor blade and interfere with its operation. His clients sued Med-Trans Corp., which operated the medical aircraft traveling between hospitals in Mason City, Iowa, and Emmetsburg, Iowa. No patient was onboard at the time of the flight but the nurse, Shelly Lair-Langenbau perished in the crash along with the pilot and the only other occupant.
First-responders reported to the National Transportation Safety Board that mist, drizzle and icy road conditions were present in the vicinity of the crash, Robb said.
“That’s the only thing that could explain the crash because there was no mechanical malfunction,” he said.
Roland Peddicord of Peddicord, Wharton, Spencer, Hook, Barron & Wegman, assisted in the defense of Med-Trans. The company disputed both the cause of the crash and whether the pilot was aware of any potential icing conditions, he said.
“There was evidence both positive and negative in that regard,” he said.
Peddicord deferred comment on the specifics of that evidence and any contentions made by the defense to lead counsel Don Swaim of Cunningham Swaim. Neither Swaim nor Alex Whitman, his co-counsel from the latter firm, returned a message requesting comment.
The NTSB left the exact cause of the crash “ambiguous” but there was evidence of ice in the area, including from other pilots, Robb said. The NTSB’s conclusions would not have been admissible at trial however some specific evidence chronicled in the report might have been allowed.
Robb contended that too much discretion was left to the pilot in determining whether to fly in icy weather and that the company should have had better policies in place during the January 2013 accident.
The defense contended that the company and its policies had not been liable for the crash.
Peddicord said that both liability and the exact amount of damages were at issue in the case but ultimately a resolution was reached.
“The hazards of litigation are critical for both plaintiff and defendant,” he said. “By going to mediation both the plaintiff and the defendants were able to have control of the outcome of the case rather than whatever a jury might have done.”
Robb said he felt the eventual agreement was a good one.
“We felt that was a fair and reasonable compromise of this disputed claim,” he said. “It saves our client having the two minor children testify which was a large consideration.”
John Lander of Brown, Kinsey, Funkhouser, Lander also represented the plaintiff in the matter. He did not return a request for comment.
$5.15 million settlement
Venue: U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Iowa – Central Division
Case Number/Date: 3:13-cv-03038-LTS/May 17, 2016
Judge: Leonard Strand
Plaintiff’s Experts: Donald Sommer, Broomfield, Colorado, (accident reconstruction); Arthur “Lee” Coffman, Amarillo, Texas (maintenance); Rodney Doss, Plano, Texas, (FAA compliance); Colonel William Lawrence, North Richland Hills, Texas, (piloting); John Ward, Prairie Village, Kansas, (economics)
Defendant’s Experts: Douglas Stimpson, Broomfield, Colorado (accident reconstruction); Joseph Syslo, Jr., Fort Worth, Texas (accident investigation); Michael Hurst, Youngsville, Louisiana, (piloting); David Downey, Southlake, Texas (FAA compliance); Kenneth McCoin, Houston, (economics)
Caption: Gerald Lair, Karen Lair, Jay Langenbau v. Med-Trans Corporation
Plaintiff’s Attorneys: Gary Robb and Anita Porte Robb of Robb & Robb, Kansas City; John Lander of Brown, Kinsey, Funkhouser & Lander, Mason City, Iowa
Defendant’s Attorneys: Don Swaim and Alex Whitman of Cunningham Swaim, Dallas; Roland Peddicord of Peddicord, Wharton, Spencer, Hook, Barron & Wegman, West Des Moines, Iowa