On Tuesday a federal court jury in Jackson rendered a total verdict of $2.7 million against Robinson Helicopter to plaintiffs involved in a 2009 helicopter crash in Jackson. Here is the original Complaint. 

According to the Complaint, the cause of the crash was severe vibration or “chugging.” Charles Farmer died in the crash and Larry Wells suffered severe injuries. The owner of the helicopter, Webb Group, was also a plaintiff.

The trial commenced on July 13, 2015 before District Judge Carlton Reeves. The trial lasted eleven days and ended on July 28. Here is the verdict.

The jury apportioned 70% fault to Robinson, 15% to Wells and 15% to the FAA. Damages were as follows:

  • Larry Wells: $2,525,000  ($2 million economic)
  • Donna Wells: $289,074  ($189,074 economic)
  • Connie Farmer: $700,000 ($350,000 economic)
  • Webb Group: $384,000 (all economic).

The apportionment of fault reduced the total verdict to just north of $2.7 million.

The trial was set to resume on July 29 on the issue of punitive damages. However, the parties announced a settlement. Here is the dismissal order.

Plaintiff’s counsel were Mike Pangia, Joseph Anderson, Douglas Dejarden (all from a D.C. firm), and Nick Norris and Louis Watson, Jr. from Jackson. Ben Watson from Butler Snow represented Webb Group.

David Ayers and Rusty Comley from Watkins Eager in Jackson and Tim Goetz from California represented Robinson Helicopter.

My Take:

That seems like a measured verdict given the facts of the case. If anything, the non-economic amounts seem low for a crash that was severe enough to kill one of the occupants and where the other plaintiff’s economic damages were $2 million. It would be interesting to know how much the plaintiffs requested from the jury.

The quick settlement and dismissal is fodder for plaintiff lawyers who argue that federal court is a better venue than state court because cases move faster and it’s easier to monetize a verdict.

It’s hard to imagine such a quick settlement in state court given the fact that defense lawyers still routinely claim in settlement negotiations that the Mississippi appellate courts will not affirm large verdicts. I’m not sure I agree with that assessment, but I still hear the claim and have no reason to doubt that defense lawyers are telling their clients that. True or not, as long as lawyers and clients believe that it will impact litigation in Mississippi.

Plaintiff lawyers do not hear those political-based threats from defense lawyers in federal court nearly as much as in state court, if any.