Helicopter crash claim reaches Court of Appeal

Date: Dec 13, 2017

A complex public liability claim in which a helicopter crash killed three people has reached the NSW Court of Appeal, as the organisations implicated in the accident continue to fight over who was to blame.

We reported on the case in 2015, but appellate judges have been asked to review the evidence. Before exploring their findings, let’s summarise what happened in the original trial.

Three organisations liable for crash

In 2006, a local council enlisted the services of a helicopter company so that two of its employees could perform an aerial noxious weed survey.

The helicopter was flying low through a wooded area when it struck a power line and crashed, with both council employees and the pilot all killed.

The wife and children of one of the council staff launched a civil liability claim for nervous shock following the accident, while also pursuing damages through the Compensation to Relatives Act.

According to the trial judge, the helicopter company, the council and the energy company that owned the power line were all negligent. He apportioned blame at 70, 20 and 10 per cent, respectively.

Multiple claims and cross-claims

The decision led to numerous claims and cross-claims between the parties. Some of the issues raised were:

  • The council employees’ status as ‘passengers’ under the Civil Aviation (Carrier’s Liability) Amendment Act;
  • Whether the council was owed workers compensation that it paid out to employees’ families from other liable parties;
  • Whether the helicopter company could recoup the costs for its lost aircraft; and
  • Whether the energy firm was negligent.

On the first issue, which would have put the family’s award of compensation under threat, the appellate judges ruled that the council employees were passengers in accordance with the Act. In light of this verdict, the family will continue to receive damages for the accident.

The helicopter firm will be allowed to make a claim for lost costs against the other negligent parties for the helicopter’s destruction. However, the council cannot pursue workers compensation from the other defendants.

Apportioning damages after the appeals

The appellate judges ruled that the energy company was not negligent for the accident because it could not have foreseen that a helicopter would be flying low in the area where the accident occurred.

As such, the apportionment of blame was recalibrated at a ratio of 80:20 per cent between the helicopter firm and the council, respectively.

The family will still receive significant damages for the accident. The employee’s wife was awarded approximately $870,000 in compensation for her husband’s death and the resulting mental health problems it caused. Furthermore, the couple’s daughter and son, who also claimed for nervous shock following the incident, will receive $207,000 and $136,391, respectively.

Talk to Gerard Malouf & Partners Compensation, Medical Negligence & Will Dispute Lawyers today if you’d like to discuss a public liability claim.

Call us now on 1800 004 878 to book a free appointment with one of my compensation experts, or email your enquiry.