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Court approves $13.55M personal injury settlement against Boeing and others over Iraq Apache Longbow accident

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Beltran v. Chadwick Helmuth, et al., Case No.CV 05-6344-R (JTLx)

LOS ANGELES–Panish Shea & Boyle LLP announces today the United States District Court in Los Angeles, California approved the largest known settlement for two military personnel injured during the war in Iraq. The settlement totaled $13,550,000 ($13.55 million).

Chief Warrant Officer Juan Beltran, age 31 at the time, was serving the country in Tikrit, Iraq doing helicopter maintenance. On August 14, 2003 he was tapped on the shoulder to serve as co-pilot on a maintenance test flight of an Apache Longbow, the Army’s primary attack helicopter. The pilot of that maintenance flight, Chief Warrant Officer Ron Carns, also 31 at the time, had the helicopter at a hover at 800 feet. While at 800 feet, a gear box in the helicopter failed, causing loss of tail rotor control. That put the helicopter in a spin and it fell 800 feet to the ground and crashed. Miraculously, the occupants survived. Unfortunately, the men had major spinal fractures that would affect them for the rest of their lives.

A fraction of a millimeter made all the difference. While Juan Beltran and Ron Carns had similar spinal fractures, Juan Beltran’s spinal cord was compromised. He is now and forever will be quadriplegic. He also suffered finger amputation and a serious head injury. Ron Carns was fortunate that his spinal cord was not compromised, but he still faces restricted movement and has a metal device in his neck and back. Juan Beltran has a wife, Gabriella, and a 4 year old girl, Sara, who was 6 months old at the time of the accident. Ron Carns has a wife, Lynda.

Legally, the men were in a difficult situation as the Army is immune from suit and as the designers of the helicopter argue that they too have “government contractor immunity” from these types of suits.

Juan Beltran retained Kevin Boyle of Los Angeles’ Panish Shea & Boyle. Ron Carns retained Rockne Onstad of Austin, Texas, as well as Panish Shea & Boyle. Suit was filed in Los Angeles Superior Court on July 26, 2005 against Boeing and the manufacturers of the component parts that allegedly failed. Boeing removed the case to United States District Court in Los Angeles, where it was presided over by Judge Manuel Real. The settlement was split as follows: Beltran: $11,247,500; Carns: $2,302,500.

The plaintiffs’ lawyers were able to avoid dismissal on the “government contractor defense” and on the other multitude of defenses raised by the defendants.

Shortly before trial, a final settlement was reached with the manufacturers totaling $13.55 million. This settlement was approved today by the court, and dismissal of the action is anticipated shortly.

This is the largest known settlement for military personnel injured during the war in Iraq. Plaintiffs’ counsel Kevin Boyle of Panish Shea & Boyle stated: “These men are heroes. They gave up everything to serve our country. I’m honored and proud that I was able to serve them.”

The helicopter failed due to excessive vibration caused by inadequate lubrication in the gearbox and gearbox bearings and due to the failure of a device called an accelerometer that should have warned the pilots of the problem in the gearbox.

The defendants were Chadwick Helmuth, Torrance CA (manufacturer of accelerometer), Honeywell (same), Boeing (manufacturer of helicopter), MPB Corp. (manufacturer of bearings), and Aircraft Gear Corp. (manufacturer of gearbox). All defendants contributed to the settlement.

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