A Portland jury recently awarded $70 million in damages to a pilot who was injured as well as the family of another pilot who was killed in a 2008 helicopter crash, according to The Oregonian.
The case involved the 2008 crash of a helicopter “on a California mountainside killing nine firefighters, including eight from Oregon: it was either a well-known engine flaw or an overloaded craft,” the newspaper reports. The Oregon unsafe products verdict established that, in the jury’s view, the fault lay with the helicopter’s manufacturer rather than with the pilots. It was, one of the attorneys involved told the paper, a vindication for the pilots, living and dead. The “jurors unanimously said the crash wasn’t the pilot’s fault.”
The case turned on a defect in the helicopter’s engine. “General Electric, maker of the helicopter’s engines… knew for at least six years there were problems with a fuel control valve in the commercial engines the company built for Sikorsky S-61 helicopters,” the paper, citing the plaintiffs’ attorney, reports. GE blamed the crash on overloaded equipment and said the pilots were responsible because they allowed too many people and too much equipment onto their helicopters.
The question all this begs is how something with a known fault in a crucial area such as the fuel control system could still be in service. The Portland jury’s verdict is a reminder of the important role juries play in ensuring justice for victims and their families, even when facing off against one of the largest companies on earth.
From an Oregon industrial accident and product liability attorney’s perspective that last point is especially important. In this case ordinary people were able to use our court system to obtain the justice they deserve. The courts are one of the great leveling agents of American life: a place where the poor and powerless can stand on equal ground with powerful corporations. Such battles are never easy. But it says a lot about America, and about our courts, that they can take place at all.