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Helicopter Defense Team Obtains SJ for Helicopter Leasing Co. in Wrongful Death Action

August 17, 2016

William Katt (Partner-Milwaukee), chair of Wilson Elser’s Helicopter Defense Team, obtained a summary judgment decision from the U.S. District Court in Hawaii dismissing a helicopter leasing company from the case. This wrongful death action arose from the crash of a helicopter used by a tour operator in Molokai, Hawaii, on November 10, 2011. All of the occupants were killed in the crash including the pilot, who was an employee of the tour operator. Passenger claims brought against the tour operator had already been settled. The leasing company was an affiliate of the tour operator and the pilot’s estate sought to sue them because workers’ compensation exclusivity precluded it from suing the tour operator. The leasing company was the owner and lessor of the helicopter, and it was sued under a negligence and strict liability theory. The court, after years of discovery and hotly contested litigation, found all such claims were federally preempted by 49 U.S.C. § 44112 because the leasing company was not in “actual possession or control” of the helicopter as required to establish liability against an owner or lessor under that statute.

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