Bell Helicopter Textron says it plans to appeal a $21.7 million award returned by a Kentucky jury in a lawsuit brought by the families of three people who died in a June 2013 medical helicopter crash.
The Clay County jury decided the award on Sept. 28 following a three-week trial and five hours of deliberation, according to local media outlets.
Four years ago, the helicopter crashed in an elementary school parking lot 750 feet from a helipad, killing pilot and retired sheriff’s deputy Eddy Sizemore, 61; paramedic Herman “Lee” Dobbs, 40; and Jesse Jones, 28.
Eight family members sued Fort Worth-based Bell Helicopter, which manufactured the aircraft.
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A report by the National Transportation Safety Board said the crash probably occurred because the pilot became disoriented and lost control in foggy night-time conditions.
But Gary C. Robb, an attorney who represented the families, said there was a main rotor blade defect, and the tail boom and roof broke off, leaving the crew helpless.
Witnesses saw the helicopter flying lower than normal and spinning before it crashed, according to the NTSB report.
Robb said Bell Helicopter executives have admitted knowledge of this defect in their main rotor blade manufacturing for more than two decades. He said the families are demanding the Federal Aviation Administration investigate the company. Bell said he will also file a complaint with the agency.
The favorable ruling for the families meant jurors decided that the company manufactured the helicopter component “in a defective condition, unreasonably dangerous to the user,” and that the problem factored significantly in the crash, jury instructions said.
Bell Helicopter spokeswoman Lindsey Hughes said the company will appeal, adding that the NTSB found no design or manufacturing flaws with the helicopter or its parts.
The jury awards varied for different family members. The highest amount was $7.5 million to the son of Jesse Jones.
Bell Helicopter shows off its expanded pilot and mechanics training center at Fort Worth headquarters campus. (Video by Max Faulkner and Andrea Ahles)