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Monday, May 27, 2024 | Back issues
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British Chopper Crash Suit to Play Out in U.S.

(CN) - Negligence claims over a helicopter crash that claimed the lives of two Britons should remain in the United States, where the aircraft manufacturers are based, a federal judge ruled.

Schweizer Aircraft manufactured the helicopter that crashed near Blackpool in Lancashire, England, on Sept. 22, 2009, while pilot Steven Edward Lewis was training Philip Charles Gray for a private license.

The crash killed both men, who were British citizens, and counsel for their estates shipped the helicopter wreckage to Delaware, where it remains in storage.

Steven's personal representative, Pamela Lewis; and Philip's representatives, Keith Whitehead and John Wroblewski; sued Schweizer, a subsidiary and other manufacturers involved with chopper: Avco Corp., Lycoming Engines, Textron Systems Corp., Textron Inc., Precision Airmotive LLC, Precision Airmotive Corp., Sikorsky Aircraft Corp., United Technologies Corp., and Champion Aerospace LLC.

The defendants removed the lawsuit from the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County to the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, and then they argued that the case should be decided in the U.K.

Precision Airmotive filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on Dec. 7, 2012, automatically staying the helicopter litigation.

U.S. District Judge Harvey Bartle III denied the motion as to all defendants but Precision on Thursday.

The defendants failed to convince Bartle that plaintiffs' role in the transported wreckage undermined the weight of that factor.

"Plaintiffs' counsel maintain that they moved the wreckage to the United States to facilitate more convenient inspection and testing by the parties in this litigation," he wrpte. "The defendants have not proven otherwise. In any event, the wreckage is in Delaware. Moving it back across the Atlantic would be costly and inconvenient."

Bartle also tossed aside claims that, compared with the U.S., the U.K. boasts more evidence helpful to the case, such as maintenance records and potential crash witnesses.

"The likely contours of this action will involve witnesses and documents regarding the design, manufacture, assembly, and testing of the aircraft and its parts," the 21-page opinion states. "The wreckage itself will surely be significant evidence, as well as the testimony of experts who will examine the wreckage and opine on the cause of the crash. Such testimony, we anticipate, will be at the heart of the case. The defendants have not established that witnesses and documents located in the United Kingdom outweigh the importance of the witnesses, documents and other evidence present here in the United States."

America's interest in the case outweighs that of the U.K., the court found.

"Plaintiffs have brought this action against eleven defendants which are all located in the United States," Bartle wrote. "While the United Kingdom undeniably has an interest in this controversy, the United States also clearly has an interest when eleven of its corporations are sued for product liability and negligence claims arising out of the crash of a helicopter which, together with its component parts, was designed and manufactured here."

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