Talbott v. Eastern New Mexico Medical Center
On October 19, 2001, an Aerospatiale AS350B2 air ambulance helicopter owned by Medical Transport and operated for Eastern New Mexico Medical Center, crashed killing two passengers and seriously injuring a third and the pilot. The helicopter was registered to and operated by Medical Air Transport Inc. from Payson, Arizona. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed, and a visual flight rule flight plan was filed. At the time of the crash, the pilot had finished conducting landing zone training with the New Mexico State Police. He then took three members of the state police on board for an orientation flight to demonstrate the ability of the aircraft to approach and land at the scene of an accident.
The pilot later reported that as he started descending, he turned right at a 25 to 35 degree angle. He felt the turn was too “steep,” so he tried to make the turn shallower, and the cyclic control froze. The cyclic control allows the helicopter to move in different directions of travel. The pilot stated he didn’t see or hear any warnings before the helicopter crashed. He also stated that the engine of the helicopter did not have any problems to his knowledge.
The pilot possessed a private pilot certificate for single-engine land airplanes and a private rotocraft-helicopter certificate. He was trained on the AS350 helicopter by American Eurocopter in Grand Prairie, Texas. Of the over 1500 hours of total flight time the pilot recorded, 1327 hours were in helicopters, while 445 were in the AS350 helicopter.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) stated the probable cause of the accident was the seizing of the cyclic control but could not determine the reason for this. They also stated that the pilot did not have enough altitude to regain control before the crash.
Slack Davis Sanger represented the family of a deceased passenger, and the case resulted in two favorable verdicts. The plaintiffs alleged that the hospital and medical center were liable for negligently hiring the helicopter contractor. After the retrial, again a record verdict for the deceased passenger’s family, the hospital appealed. The appellate court stated, “we expressly adopt Section 411 of the Restatement (Second) of Torts as the law of New Mexico. We further conclude that the evidence presented at the second trial in this case was sufficient to establish the elements of Plaintiffs’ claim under Section 411…” Talbott v. Roswell Hospital Corp. d/b/a Eastern New Mexico Medical Center, 144 N.M. 753, 192 P.3d 267 (N.M. App. 2008). The ruling greatly enhanced air ambulance safety by ensuring that hospitals scrutinize their helicopter operators to safeguard patients and personnel onboard. The decision means that hospitals must be a partner with the air ambulance companies on developing and enforcing safety processes.Investigative Report