An Iowa jury, at the conclusion of a high profile lawsuit, found in favor of a film producer and a cameraman’s widow last month. Both won multimillion-dollar lawsuits against a pilot who crashed a helicopter into power lines during production of an eastern Iowa baseball movie. The jury in Polk County, Iowa, awarded $7.2 million to the widow of Roland Schlotzhauer, the cameraman who died in the June 2006 crash while filming The Final Season. Jurors also ordered the pilot to pay $4.2 million to Tony Wilson, the Dallas Center movie producer, who suffered near-fatal injuries.
The verdict was in a case which consolidated four lawsuits – with conflicting versions of how the low-flying chopper crashed – for trial. The case revolved around an aerial shot for The Final Season, a film about the Norway High School baseball team’s 1991 championship run. The pilot was flying between 30 and 50 feet off the ground and traveling about 55 mph for a shot along a highway near Walford, Iowa when the chopper snagged on power lines. Both the pilot and Wilson suffered permanent injuries and have incurred hundreds of thousands of dollar in medical bills. Schlotzhauer was killed in the crash.
Jurors placed 75% of the blame on the pilot in the Schlotzhauer’s lawsuit, which means he will have to pay three-fourths of the $7.2 million award. The corporate owners of The Final Season must pay the remaining 25%. In the Wilson lawsuit, jurors found that the pilot was completely at fault and ordered him to pay the film producer $4.2 million for medical expenses, pain and suffering, lost earnings and other legal damages. The pilot’s company, Ritel Copter Service, also was named in the lawsuit.
Bristol Aerospace, a Canadian aviation company, was a Defendant in three of the lawsuits. Lawyers for Wilson, Schlotzhauer and the pilot all blamed the crash on a windshield-mounted blade manufactured by the company to slice through power lines. It was contended that Bristol Aerospace executives, concerned that their patent was about to expire, shortened the blade and removed a serrated edge. It was further contended during the trial that the cost-cutting move ultimately stopped the blade from working properly in the crash.
But lawyers for Bristol contended that the redesign did not compromise the safety device. They said engineers did shorten the blade, but also increased the angle so it would stand at the same height. Tests conducted by the U.S. Army found that the serrated edge slowed the momentum of the power lines as they slid into the main cutter. As a result, the device was said to be more effective without the serrated edge.
The jurors found that Bristol wasn’t at fault. Six of the seven jurors ruled against the pilot. Kevin Driscoll, a lawyer from Des Moines, Iowa, represented Tony Wilson & his wife. Gary Robb, a Kansas City lawyer, represented the widow of Mr. Schlotzhauer. This was an extremely complicated matter and had to be most difficult to try because of the consolidated cases.
Source: Des Moines Register
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