Air ambulance safety has been greatly enhanced by a recent New Mexico Supreme Court decision affirming an appellate court opinion that holds hospitals responsible for screening the competency of the air ambulance operators they hire, said Mike Slack, the lead trial attorney on the case. The district court in Roswell, Chaves County, New Mexico heard the motion for entry of judgment on the Supreme Court’s mandate on June 24, 2009.
The judgment favors Kim and Bonnie Talbott, whose 21-year-old son, Damon K. Talbott, died in an air ambulance helicopter crash near Roswell, New Mexico, in 2001. The crash occurred during an air ambulance training exercise with New Mexico State Police. A second New Mexico State Police officer was killed and a third officer was seriously injured in the crash. Their cases remain pending and have not been reached for trial.
The Talbotts alleged in their lawsuit that the Roswell Hospital Corporation, which does business as Eastern New Mexico Medical Center, was liable for negligently hiring the helicopter contractor Medical Air Transport (MAT). MAT had recently based a helicopter at the hospital.
An initial trial verdict in favor of the Talbotts was reversed and the case was retried. On retrial, a second jury again found for the Talbotts holding the hospital liable for its negligence in failing to identify numerous safety deficiencies before entering into an agreement with MAT. After the second trial, the hospital appealed and the New Mexico Court of Appeals affirmed the jury’s verdict.
Commenting on the April 14, 2009 ruling by the New Mexico Supreme Court, Mike Slack of the Slack Davis Sanger law firm in Austin stated, “This decision affirms that hospitals are partners in the air ambulance safety process. Just as a hospital scrutinizes physicians before selecting them to work in their facilities, they must also scrutinize air ambulance services. We have seen far too many crashes attributed to incompetent air ambulance operators for the hospitals not to be more careful when they bring a company to their helipad.”
Slack, a nationally prominent aviation crash litigator and commentator on air ambulance safety, said the ruling brings “a meaningful precedent to the significant air ambulance safety problem across the country and will greatly benefit the safety of the patients and personnel onboard. Damon Talbott’s name now stands for an important legal precedent in the area of aviation safety.”
Slack, a pilot and a former NASA senior aerospace engineer, said there are hundreds of hospitals across the nation that contract with air ambulance services.
Mike Worley and Clay Paulos of Sanders, Bruin, Coll & Worley in Roswell served as co-counsel in this case and Ed Ricco of Rodey, Dickason, Sloan, Akin & Robb in Albuquerque was lead appellate counsel.