Los Angeles, September 11, 2003 – – The Supreme Court of California yesterday denied Bell Helicopter’s Petition for Review of the appellate decision of June 13, 2003, in favor of the widows of the three paramedics killed in the 1998 Bell helicopter crash in Griffith Park, Los Angeles. The helicopter was airlifting an injured child when the tail rotor yoke failed and caused the aircraft to crash.
The widows’ attorney, Robert E. Guilford of Baum, Hedlund, Aristei & Guilford, originally filed a wrongful death lawsuit in Superior Court of California, County of Los Angeles against Bell and affiliated entities on behalf of the widows. Bell succeeded in having the case dismissed, however, based on a federal statute called the General Aviation Revitalization Act of 1994 (GARA) which bars legal action against manufacturers of general aviation aircraft if the part that allegedly caused the accident is more than 18 years old. Mr. Guilford appealed.
Judge Paul Boland of the 2nd District Court of Appeal in Los Angeles ruled in June that the law does not apply to Bell in this case because Bell had withheld information from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) about five prior military aircraft accidents that Bell knew were caused by the failure of identical tail rotor yokes. The court agreed with Mr. Guilford’s argument that FAA regulations required Bell to report those failures, and that the withholding of that information fell squarely within a statutory exception to the time limitations on civil actions that would otherwise apply. The Appellate Court reversed the judgment of the trial court and sent the case back for trial. Bell then filed a petition with the Supreme Court of California for review of this appeal which was denied.
Aviation disaster attorney and pilot, Bob Guilford, is very pleased with the decision and is expecting a trial date to be set at the next status conference or shortly thereafter but within the next couple months. The trial will likely occur in 2004. “The Supreme Court obviously didn’t feel Bell’s request had any merit. Bell had a responsibility to alert the FAA of the flaw in their tail rotor yoke. If Bell had done so, this accident could have been prevented.”
Background: Mr. Guilford previously stated, “In 1989, instead of shortening the flight time for civilian helicopters as had been done for the military at 2,400 hours, Bell increased their flight time from 4,000 to 5,000 hours. The helicopter in this crash had logged 4,117 hours.”
June 13, 2003 appeal ruling
Second Appellate District
Butler et al. v. Bell Helicopter Textron, Inc. et – B152609