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Johnson v. Pratt & Whitney

Helicopter Crash: Marine Corps Pilots

Verdict: $6,781,765

Plaintiff Attorney: Brian J. Panish

Defendant Attorney:

Jeffrey Davidson (Kirkland & Ellis), Los Angeles
Mary Blodgett(Kirkland & Ellis), Los Angeles

Trial Judge: Jack K. Mandel – Santa Ana | 8/12/92

Trial Time: 6 days

Deliberation Time: 1 day

Insurance Co: Association of Aviation Underwriters

Case: Johnson/Riggs vs. Pratt-Whitney | 54 03 89

Facts:

Decedents were United States Marine Corps pilots (Plaintiff #1, 1st Lieutenant, age 26, and Plaintiff #2, Major, age 35). Decedents were on training flight in an AH-1T COBRA Helicopter from Camp Pendleton when the engine caught fire and crashed near Cleveland National Forest. Helicopter engines were manufactured by Pratt-Whitney of Canada for the United States Military.

Injuries:Fatal, 26 year old son; Fatal, 35 year old father.

Loss of Earnings:

Plaintiff #2: $2,200,000 past/$2,900,000 future

Contentions:

Plaintiffs claimed engine failure resulted from defectively manufactured fuel nozzle which cracked. Defendant had similar failure in commercial engines but concealed information from the United States Government. Defendants had given warning to all civilian operators of engines with the same fuel nozzles.

Defendant argued they were barred from arguing comparative negligence against the Military, Bell Helicopters, or the plaintiffs. The Court ordered that when summary adjudication was imposed, it was absolute. Therefore, Defendants could only argue pure damages.

Offer: None

Demand: $1,350,000 (per §998), withdrawn at trial.

Verdict: Plaintiff #1: $692,081;

Plaintiff #2: 6,089,684.

Editor’s Note:

Plaintiff’s counsel undertook enormous discovery which resulted in substantial monetary sanctions against Defendants and more than fifteen law and motion hearings. Eventually, the Court imposed issue and evidence sanctions against the Defendants. Plaintiff’s motions for summary adjudication as to liability were granted.

Jury Poll: 11-1 as to various parties

Plaintiff Experts: Formuzis, Peter | Economist – Santa Ana

Defense Experts: Fractor, David | Economist – Los Angeles

Copyright © Panish Shea & Boyle

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