FAA Denies Liability in Medevac Crash

FAA lawyer says facts of liabilty could be biased and declined payment to survivor.



HEATHER CASE, WUSA9 | | Friday, July 9, 2010

WASHINGTON (AP) - Federal Aviation Administration officials say the agency isn't liable for injuries suffered by the sole survivor of a 2008 Maryland medevac helicopter crash in which air traffic controllers provided outdated weather information.

Gregory Winton, the attorney for 19-year-old survivor Jordan Wells, filed a $50 million personal injury claim on her behalf in December 2008. In the claim, Winton argues that the agency is liable for the accident because visibility was significantly worse in the area where the September 2008 crash occurred than an air traffic controller had advised the helicopter's pilot.

An FAA lawyer, however, told Winton in a June letter that a review of the claim did not show "facts upon which a finding of liability on the part of this agency could be based." The letter from Richard Saltsman, the FAA's assistant chief counsel for litigation, said after their review, the agency "must decline to make payment." An FAA spokesman declined to comment further on the matter.

Winton said he was surprised to receive the denial letter, especially after National Transportation Safety Board members concluded last year the crash that killed four people was caused by a combination of factors including a pilot who was not proficient in instrument landing approaches, and the outdated weather information.

Wells has said she has had more than 20 surgeries since the tragedy, and Winton estimates her insurance carrier has paid more than $1 million for her continuing treatments.
"She lost a leg," Winton said, arguing that federal government employees should also be held responsible for their "negligence" in providing timely search and rescue services after the crash. "She sat in mud for hours in the middle of the night, in the rain, surrounded by four dead bodies."

Wells and 17-year-old Ashley Younger, who died in the crash, were being flown in the medevac helicopter for medical treatment after a car accident. Pilot Stephen Bunker, 59; flight paramedic Mickey Lippy, 34; and emergency medical technician Tanya Mallard, 39, also died in the helicopter crash.

Winton, who also represents Mallard's family, said he plans to file a lawsuit.

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