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Engine repair company dismissed from VSP helicopter deaths lawsuit

A company that repaired the engine of a Virginia State Police helicopter that crashed on Aug. 12, 2017, killing both officers aboard, has been dismissed from an Albemarle County lawsuit filed by the officers’ widows.

Dallas Airmotives Inc. was among several defendants named in companion wrongful death lawsuits filed in Albemarle County Circuit Court in June on behalf of Amanda Bates and Karen Cullen, whose husbands died in a helicopter crash while monitoring the aftermath of the Unite the Right rally. Named defendants include a swath of manufacturers involved with producing and maintaining the helicopter.

Unlike lawsuits filed by the women in Richmond City Circuit Court in July, the Albemarle suits only name corporate defendants, not state entities.

Berke M.M. Bates and H. Jay Cullen were tasked with monitoring the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville. In the late afternoon that day, on the way to monitor then-Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s motorcade, their helicopter suddenly crashed, killing both men.

According to the lawsuits, the helicopter — a Bell 407 manufactured by Bell Helicopter Textron — was a “maintenance nightmare,” with a reputation for frequent repairs. These repairs would ultimately lead to the crash, the complaints argue.

In 2016, the engine was repaired by DAI, who, according to documents submitted by the company, conducted all repairs and tests outside of Virginia and delivered the repaired engine to the VSP in Tennessee.

In January, Albemarle County Circuit Court Judge Cheryl Higgins granted DAI’s motion to dismiss, agreeing that the court did not have personal jurisdiction of the Texas-based company.

However, counsel for plaintiffs moved to enter a partial final judgment that cited an obscure rule from the Supreme Court of Virginia, leaving the door open for an immediate appeal of the court’s ruling, which could have allowed DAI to be brought back into the lawsuit.

DAI took issue and both parties presented arguments supporting their motions Tuesday in Albemarle County Circuit court.

Elliott M. Buckner, counsel for the plaintiffs, argued that, though uncommon, the case met the three requirements for a state Supreme Court’s Rule 1:2 dismissal, which argues in part that the claims against one defendant do not apply to the rest.

Though rarely applied, Buckner said the unusual nature of the lawsuit made this type of dismissal appropriate in this case, and that the dismissal would not place an undue burden on the defendants.

DAI’s attorney, Raymond L. Mariani, however said that the case was hardly unusual, resembling a “typical aviation case.” In this case, the defendants all are alleged to have been negligent in care of the helicopter’s engine.

“A case where this type of dismissal would be appropriate would be a case where an air traffic controller is named along with plane manufacturers in a crash lawsuit,” he said. “In a situation like that, the allegations against the air traffic controller would likely be different than those against the manufacturers.”

Mariani said DAI was concerned that if the plaintiffs’ motion was granted, his client could be drawn back into the suit on appeal and be subject to motions it had not been part of to begin with.

Albemarle Circuit Court Judge Claude Worrell sided with the defendants, saying their argument was more consistent with Higgins’ January oral ruling.

Though Worrell’s order means the plaintiffs cannot appeal DAI’s dismissal, they are still named as a defendant in a Texas-based lawsuit from the plaintiffs, according to arguments made Tuesday.

No further hearing are currently set for the Albemarle County cases.


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