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Missouri Lawyers Weekly - August 22, 2016

Replacement of Shock Absorbent Helicopter Seats Cause of Passenger Injuries

By Alan Scher Zagier
Missouri Lawyers Weekly

A Pettis County lawsuit filed by a University of Missouri Health Care nurse and a paramedic, who both suffered spinal injuries after an emergency helicopter landing, settled for $3.3 million, according to the attorneys representing the women.

Flight nurse Hester West and paramedic Elisabeth Corcoran separately sued Colorado-based Air Methods Corp. and pilot Bryce Cameron after the Dec. 19, 2010 crash near Sedalia, online court records show. The lawsuits were filed in February 2014 and consolidated in July 2015.

The plaintiffs alleged that Air Methods negligently had replaced its shock-absorbent passenger seats in the helicopter with non-energy absorbing, after-market seats, said aviation attorney Gary C. Robb, who worked on the case with his wife Anita Porte Robb.

Air Methods owns and operates the university health system’s Staff for Life medical helicopter service, which was founded in 1980 by a University Hospital trauma surgeon in Columbia to help transport seriously injured patients across the state.

The helicopter crashed on its helipad in the town of La Monte shortly after takeoff when it lost one of its engines, narrowly missing a container of jet fuel and a cluster of propane tanks. The chopper was just 200 feet in the air when the pilot lost control. No patients were on board.

West suffered a T-12 burst fracture and a coccygeal fracture but was able to return to work, Robb said. Corcoran suffered a closed fracture of her L1 vertebrae but also returned to work with no restrictions.

Attorneys representing the helicopter company did not respond to several interview requests. But Cameron, a former Marine who retired from flying in 2014, said he was “thrilled to death” that his former colleagues will split a seven-figure settlement after a wreck in which he too broke his back.

Despite an FAA finding that attributed the crash to pilot error, Cameron said a subsequent internal review by Air Methods attributed the engine failure to a flight mechanic who didn’t properly change a fuel filter, which left an air bubble in the fuel line.

“They were grateful that I saved their lives,” Cameron said of the two plaintiffs. “I was treated as a hero for bringing the aircraft down safely.”

Cameron said that Air Methods, for whom he continued to work until leaving for another company in 2013, provided his attorney and is assuming full responsibility for the settlement. A company spokeswoman did not respond to an interview request.

The 19 documented accidents involving Air Methods helicopters since 2006 – of which at least seven were fatal – include an August 2011 crash near Liberty in which three crew members and a patient died while flying from St. Joseph after running out of fuel. The National Transportation Safety Board determined that the pilot in that case was distracted by a series of text messages he sent and received during the flight.

Robb declined to specify the breakdown of value for the settlement.

The suit was dismissed with prejudice in late February, according to Pettis County Circuit Court records.

$3.3 million settlement

Helicopter crash

Venue: Pettis County Circuit Court

Case Number/Date: 14PT-CC00073/March 11, 2016

Caption: Hester West, Elisabeth Corcoran v. Bryce Cameron, Air Methods Corp.

Judge: Circuit Judge Robert L. Koffman

Plaintiff’s Attorneys: Gary Charles Robb and Anita Porte Robb, Robb and Robb, Kansas City; Mark Thomas Kempton, Kempton & Russell, Sedalia

Defendant’s Attorneys: William J. Katt and Corey J. Wright, Wilson Elser Moskowitz Edelman & Dicker, Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Joseph Roper, Foland, Wickens, Eisfelder, Roper & Hofer, Kansas City

Injuries Alleged: back, spine

Plaintiff’s Experts: Donald Sommer, Broomfield, Colorado (accident reconstruction); Richard McSwain, Pensacola, Florida (metallurgy); Richard Wartman, Pensacola (seat design); Lee Coffman, Amarillo, Texas (maintenance); William Lawrence, North Richland Hills, Texas (piloting)

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