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The Indianapolis Star - May 30, 2010

$5.6 Million Settlement in Helicopter Death

By Jon Murray
The Indianapolis Star
5/30/2010

Money might seem like little consolation for two young children still struggling to understand their mother’s death nearly two years after a medical helicopter crash in rural Indiana.

But attorneys who helped negotiate one of the largest settlements of its kind for an Indiana case say the payout will provide for their futures while holding the maker of the helicopter’s flawed rotor blade accountable.

The deal with Bell Helicopter will set aside $5.6 million total in trust funds until Sandra Pearson’s 11-year-old son and 9-year-old daughter turn 18.

The Avon flight nurse and two other crew members died in the August 2008 crash in a field outside Burney, about 40 miles southeast of Indianapolis.

They had just taken off in a Bell 206 chopper on a return flight to their home base in Rushville after attending a fundraising event for a local volunteer fire station.

Pearson, 38, was a single mother. Her children, Garrett and Gabrielle, have since moved to Decatur, Ill., to live with their father, Troy Pearson.

“They miss their mother,” said Gary C. Robb, an aviation law attorney in Kansas City, Mo., who spoke on the family’s behalf. “They keep asking, ‘When is Mommy going to come back?’ ”

Robb has pressed dozens of similar lawsuits. Bell’s willingness to settle this case, he said, “was a recognition that these children lost the most important thing in their lives. Everybody recognized this was an extremely sympathetic case.”

Bell, based in Fort Worth, Texas, and owned by Textron, has admitted no wrongdoing in the settlement. The company’s Indianapolis attorney, Jim Peterson, declined to comment, and an attempt to reach company officials Friday was not successful.

The settlement reflects a calculation of Pearson’s unrealized earnings and the children’s loss of her love and companionship.

Indiana juries have rarely awarded such large sums. For others that end in settlements before trial, comparisons are difficult because many include a confidentiality clause.

The National Bank of Indianapolis brought the wrongful death lawsuit on the children’s behalf as the representative of Pearson’s estate. A Hendricks County probate judge approved the settlement Wednesday, a final step necessary to resolve the lawsuit, which was filed in Marion Superior Court.

The plaintiff’s attorneys say Bell failed to correct a manufacturing flaw in the main rotor blade, which broke apart, until it was too late.

The company issued an alert on the same helicopter model last year that referenced the Indiana crash and warned of the potential for fatigue cracks.

The other crash victims were pilot Roger Warren, 43, and paramedic and base manager Wade Weston, 38.

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