Local Robinson Helicopter Company Can Be Held Accountable for Accidents Occurring Outside U.S.

Los Angeles, June 17, 2004 – – The Supreme Court of California yesterday denied a review of an appellate ruling which had reversed the trial court’s order granting Robinson Helicopter Company’s motion to dismiss a helicopter wrongful death case against them.

Brothers and co-owners of their own construction companies, Jose and Arnoldo Kreysa Portillo, were on their way to a construction worksite in El Salvador on October 26, 2001, when the Robinson R-22 helicopter they were flying crashed, resulting in their deaths. Robinson’s investigator said that one of the main rotor blades failed in fatigue. The surviving family, of El Salvador, brought suit in California against Robinson (a California corporation) on theories of product/strict liability, negligence, fraud, and a survival cause of action. The aircraft was built in Torrance, California.

Robinson Helicopters’ moved to dismiss the family’s case on the ground of “forum non-conveniens,” arguing that the case should be tried in El Salvador because the accident occurred there, all aspects of the flight were subject to Salvadoran air regulations, decedents were citizens and residents of El Salvador, nearly all potential codefendants including those who maintained, repaired, operated and piloted the helicopter and that nearly all witnesses reside in El Salvador. Plaintiffs countered that California is the more convenient place for trial because a suitable alternative forum in El Salvador did not exist and that private and public interests favor a California court as the proper forum. “No other local factors such as weather, piloting skills, air traffic control, or compliance with Salvadoran regulations, can seriously be suggested as a contributing cause of the accident. The simple fact is that the main rotor blade broke and the helicopter crashed.”

The Kreysa families’ attorney, Robert E. Guilford of Baum Hedlund, alleged that the helicopter made by Robinson in Torrance was defective and that Robinson failed to give adequate warnings as to the risks involved in using the helicopter. Guilford claimed that the evidence to prove these allegations was located in the United States mainly at Robinsons’ Torrance factory and that expert witnesses on helicopter design, manufacturing, and other technical issues will be by U.S. citizens testifying and referring to documents in English.

Aviation disaster attorney and pilot, Bob Guilford, is very pleased with the decision. “The Supreme Court obviously didn’t feel the appellate decision warranted further consideration: U.S. companies which sell their products all over the world should stand behind their products in U.S. Courts.”

Background

Robert Guilford has been a pilot since 1961 with a commercial and instrument rating since 1970 and currently owns/pilots a Soko Galeb G-2A Jet Fighter and Hawker Hunter Mk. 58 swept-wing British Fighter. He has been the founder, chairman of the board, trustee, chief pilot, president, vice-president, and member of many aviation organizations as well as the Lawyer-Pilots Bar Association and Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association. He has litigated many small plane, helicopter, and airline cases and was lead trial counsel in several aviation trials. His last key aviation appeal was obtained in September 2003 which established an exception to the General Aviation Revitalization Act of 1994 (GARA) so that Los Angeles paramedics’ surviving families can go forward with a trial against Bell Helicopter from a crash that occurred in Griffith Park.

Robinson Helicopter Company is the leading manufacturer of civil helicopters. It recently announced that it had record-breaking sales in 2003, a total of 422 helicopters delivered and so far this year is the leader in sales and has sold 54 R-22s. Its factory is located in Torrance.

forum non-conveniens – Latin for a forum which is not convenient. This doctrine is employed when the court chosen by the plaintiff (the party suing) is inconvenient for witnesses or poses an undue hardship on the defendants, who must petition the court for an order transferring the case to a more convenient court. A typical example is a lawsuit arising from an accident involving an out-of-state resident who files the complaint in his/her home state (or in the defendant driver’s home state), when the witnesses and doctors who treated the plaintiff are in the state where the accident occurred, which makes the latter state the most convenient location for trial. Source: Law.com Legal Dictionary.

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