Helicopter engine maker settles suit alleging design flaws led to fatal crash

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Recent Cases: Transportation

December 2012/January 2013, Volume 31, No. 6

Helicopter engine maker settles suit alleging design flaws led to fatal crash 

Antibero v. Cav-Air LLC, No. CACE10029273 (Fla., Broward Co. Cir. Aug. 23, 2012).

Gilberto Ramalho, 65, and his family, all Brazilian nationals, were passengers in Ramalho’s Agusta A1096C helicopter. As the helicopter was hovering to land at the family’s Sao Paulo home, the engine failed. The helicopter crashed in the driveway and caught fire. Ramalho suffered fatal injuries. He was survived by his wife, Mariza, and four daughters, including one who was a minor at the time and another who later died. At the time of his death, Ramalho was the owner of a company that manufactured high-performance boats.

Mariza Ramalho, 51, suffered third-degree burns to her torso; spinal fractures at T-6, T-11, and L3-5; and rib fractures. She underwent surgery at T11 and L2-5 to remove bone fragments and implant screws, and subsequent surgery to readjust and align her vertebrae. She also underwent plastic surgery for the burns. Ramalho continues to suffer pain from her injuries and wears an elastic vest to keep her vertebrae aligned.

The couple’s 15-year-old daughter, Roberta, suffered bilateral pulmonary contusions and spinal fractures, including compression fractures at T4-6 and a burst fracture at L3. She underwent a laminectomy at L2-4 to remove bone fragments, decompress the vertebrae, and place rods and screws.
Roberta’s friend, Bruna Manzato Antibero, 15, was also a passenger in the helicopter and suffered a fracture to her left heel.

The pilot, Mauro Honorio Silva, 47, suffered third-degree burns to about 25 percent of his body, four fractured vertebrae, fractures to his ribs and breastbone, and a closed-head injury. He underwent spinal surgery to remove bone fragments and implant rods and screws. He continues to suffer from ringing in his left ear and vertigo; a chest deformity; difficulty walking, sitting, and lying down; and scarring to his right side, back, arm, ear, and both legs.

The copilot, 36-year-old Chao Chien Feng Jr., suffered fractures to his ribs, vertebrae, and breastbone, requiring surgery. He also suffered injury to his intestines and neurogenic bladder and bowel injuries. Before the incident, Feng practiced bodybuilding and martial arts, but because of his urinary incontinence and the fragility of the spine, he can no longer participate in any sport requiring physical strength. In addition, lumbar callousness has affected his sexual performance, and because of a lack of feeling and incontinence, he must catheterize himself every three hours, which causes frequent urinary tract infections.

Ramalho’s wife, individually and on behalf of her husband’s estate, and the other surviving passengers sued Rolls-Royce Corp., which designed and manufactured the helicopter’s engine. The plaintiffs contended that a component of the engine known as the Pinion PT Coupling, or “corncob,” was misaligned and failed after suffering fatigue. The component had been installed in Brazil pursuant to the Rolls-Royce Corp. maintenance manual. The plaintiffs contended that the misalignment was caused by the component’s defective design and/or defective maintenance instructions dealing with installation of the component.

The plaintiffs did not claim medical expenses. Ramalho’s estate and the pilot and copilot claimed unspecified lost future earnings.

The parties settled for a total of $12 million.

Plaintiff counsel: AAJ member Ricardo M. Martinez-Cid, Miami.

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