SEATTLE--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Yesterday, two local men reached a $40 million settlement in lawsuits after they were severely injured in 2014 when a KOMO news helicopter crashed onto their vehicles and exploded in downtown Seattle.
In a five-week King County Superior Court trial, attorneys for the plaintiffs argued that institutional safety failures created an accident waiting to happen that ended in debilitating injuries for Seattle residents Richard Newman and Guillermo Sanchez. The parties agreed to settle the case after new evidence and testimony emerged during trial, which had not been previously disclosed by the defendants.
“At the end of the day, the evidence was clear: it was the wrong pilot in the wrong place with the wrong aircraft,” said David Beninger of Luvera Law Firm, the attorney representing Newman. “Safety can’t just be a paper policy, it has to be job one and it must start at the top; when you cut corners, you can cost lives– and that’s always unacceptable.”
Throughout the case, Beninger and Patricia Anderson worked alongside Alisa Brodkowitz of Friedman Rubin, who represented Sanchez. The plaintiffs’ attorneys argued that the helicopter operator and television station owner disregarded the basics for pilot training, flight checklists and other safety measures in favor of shortcuts for cost savings.
According to the complaint, due to the negligent safety decisions of his employer, the helicopter pilot was drastically undertrained on a loaner Airbus AS-350 helicopter that he was piloting when it crashed. When the Bell 407 helicopter that he normally flew was briefly out of commission, the aircraft operator substituted a drastically different model – so dissimilar that the rotor blades rotated in the opposite direction. The pilot spent fewer than five hours training, with less than 3 hours of in flight time in this new model; did not receive night flight training or the necessary safety checklist; and did not have a commercial license to operate the helicopter.
Testimony also pointed to organizational demands that the aircraft refuel at the news station’s Seattle helipad – located 75 feet above a four-story office building in a highly populated neighborhood with nearby construction cranes – to save money, rather than refueling at Renton Municipal Airport.
“We hope this unthinkable tragedy and this result will be a call to action for corporate decision-makers to prioritize public safety,” Brodkowitz said.
On the morning of March 18, 2014, Richard Newman was on his way to work at Genelex, where he managed genetic clinical trials. After lifting off from the KOMO helipad and failing to correct an out of control spin, the helicopter plummeted on top of Newman’s car, smashing the hood and exploding with fire that engulfed his vehicle and the surrounding street. He suffered burns across his body that required painful surgeries and ongoing treatment, can no longer be directly exposed to the sun or regulate his own body temperature.
The crash also knocked Newman out, causing a broken shoulder, ribs and compression spine fractures. It left him with a traumatic brain injury that has impacted his short-term memory and made it much more difficult to manage a high-functioning role.
Meanwhile, Sanchez was waiting in his pickup truck at a red light behind Newman while driving to his job as a maintenance technician at a downtown Seattle apartment building. He watched in shock as the helicopter spun out of control before crashing to the ground in front of him and on top of Newman’s vehicle. His truck was hit with flaming wreckage and he tragically saw the helicopter pilot and a long-time KOMO photojournalist in the burning hull.
Sanchez was able to escape his truck and the fire, but severely injured his shoulder and ankle in the incident. He has since undergone shoulder surgery and physical therapy. He now also suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder from what he witnessed in the crash. Sanchez is receiving ongoing treatment.
“Cutting corners on safety cost each the lives they knew and loved,” Beninger said. “This settlement will provide them with some freedom and independence to help with what was lost, but it won’t change their scars, burns or other injuries.”
About Luvera Law Firm:
Luvera Law Firm is the Northwest’s premier personal injury law firm. The firm handles a broad variety of cases, including serious injuries and wrongful death caused by commercial and vehicle accidents, medical malpractice, product defects, construction site accidents, corporate wrongdoing, and insurance misconduct. Its work in pursuing accountability also creates positive change in corporate, governmental and individual behavior that makes the world safer for everyone. Find more at: www.luveralawfirm.com.
About Friedman Rubin’s Aviation Law Practice:
Friedman Rubin’s Aviation Team represents victims of helicopter, single engine, commercial and charter plane crashes both in the United States and internationally. The aviation team is driven by a passion to make flying safer for everyone. For more information go to www.friedmanrubin.com.