Slack & Davis Secures Significant Appellate Victory in First Impression Forum Non Conveniens Case


Nine families secured an important victory in the Oregon Court of Appeals against Evergreen Helicopters, Inc. (Evergreen) in a case arising out of a Peruvian helicopter crash that killed all 10 aboard, according to Ladd Sanger who represents some of the families.

At issue on appeal was the trial court’s decision to grant Evergreen’s motions to dismiss the wrongful death actions of plaintiffs/appellants based on its conclusion that Peru was the more convenient forum in which to litigate plaintiffs’ claims. According to Sanger, the Oregon Court of Appeals agreed the plaintiffs were entitled to conduct through discovery on the merits of the Evergreen’s allegation the evidence of the crash is in Peru rather than Oregon. Sanger pointed to specific instances of a radar altimeter and other terrain avoidance equipment that was installed by Evergreen Oregon as well as the operational control over the flight that was exercised from Oregon.

“The appellate court decision represents a victory for the families that lost loved ones in this tragic crash. For years these families have been battling to get justice in Oregon. This helicopter was controlled from Oregon and Evergreen knew the terrain avoidance systems in this helicopter were not functioning correctly when the helicopter left Oregon.” said Mr. Sanger.

Mr. Sanger added, “That work was done in Oregon by an Oregon corporation, signed off by an Oregon mechanic in Oregon, repairs to the improperly functioning safety system were attempted shortly before the helicopter was sent to Peru and crashed. With this decision these families will finally be able to conduct discovery and hopefully be justly compensated for the loss of their family members.”

Specifically, the Appeals Court had to determine whether dismissal based on the inconvenient-forum doctrine is available in Oregon, and, if so, what standards must be applied in governing a trial court’s application of the doctrine. These fundamental questions presented a unique case of first impression as the Oregon appellate courts had never directly confronted them before.

The Oregon Court of Appeals concluded that the inconvenient-forum doctrine is available, and that an Oregon trial court may decline to exercise its jurisdiction to try a case based on considerations of convenience and justice when an adequate, alternative forum is presently available in which to try the case. However, in reversing the decision, the Court also found that the trial court relied on inappropriate factors to dismiss plaintiffs’ actions, and instructed the trial court to reconsider its decision in light of the Court’s opinion on remand.

Background

This appeal originally arose out of an aviation crash in route to a mining site in Peru during inclement weather that resulted in the death of all 10 onboard, including eight Peruvian passengers. Plaintiffs, the personal representatives of the estates of the passengers, brought wrongful death actions in Oregon against Evergreen Helicopters, Inc., an Oregon corporation that leased the helicopter and employed the pilot.

The trial court granted Evergreen’s motions to dismiss plaintiffs’ actions based on its conclusion that Peru was the more convenient forum in which to litigate plaintiffs’ claims, and an appeal before the Oregon Court of Appeals followed.

Richard S. Yugler, Robert B. Hopkins, Matthew K. Clarke, and Landye Bennett of Blumstein LLP served as co-counsel with Slack & Davis on this case.