Defective Fuel Tank Results in Aviation Lawsuit

Case Title: Nemec v. Robinson Helicopter

On April 13, 2006, a Robinson R44 helicopter with registration number N123CK, carrying a pilot and four passengers crashed from just a few feet above the ground and burst into flames. The impact was survivable, and there were no traumatic injuries to the occupants caused by the crash itself. However, a poorly designed fuel tank ruptured on impact and ignited. The pilot survived with severe burns but died about 18 months after the crash because of his extensive burn injuries. Two other passengers also died from thermal injuries. A fourth passenger survived with minor burns.

Description of the Case

The plaintiffs sued the helicopter manufacturer, alleging that the fuel system was defectively designed, causing the fuel tank to rupture under survivable and very light impact forces. The plaintiffs proposed a remedial design change in the fuel tank, fuel tank cap, and fuel lines. The helicopter manufacturer ultimately adopted design changes to its helicopter, very similar to those advocated by the plaintiffs. In the monetary settlement which concluded the case, the manufacturer also agreed to implement a product retrofit program for U.S. owners to replace the defective system with the improved one. The manufacturer also agreed to spot inspections by the plaintiff’s counsel to inspect the retrofit production line and to observe the manufacturer’s progress in replacing defective fuel tanks and fuel system components.

Ladd Sanger is an attorney and a licensed pilot who focuses on aviation accidents, including product liability, product litigation, and representing clients who have been injured as a result of aviation accidents. His experience as a pilot helps him understand the technical aspects of aviation crashes.

Mike Slack has been practicing law for over 36 years and has litigated hundreds of lawsuits. His experience as a licensed pilot and former NASA aerospace engineer gives him unique insight into aviation accident lawsuits.

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