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Couple settles suit for $9.5 million


By Suzanne Roig
Advertiser Staff Writer

Couple settles

Honolulu attorney Rick Fried announced yesterday that his clients, Douglas and Judy Barton, had accepted $9.5 million to settle a lawsuit they filed for injuries suffered in a tour helicopter crash

A New Hampshire couple that came to Kaua’i to celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary but suffered debilitating injuries in a tour helicopter crash that also killed one passenger last year have settled a lawsuit for $9.5 million in damages.

The suit was filed in Circuit Court on O’ahu late last year against the Boeing Co. (which merged with McDonnell Douglas in 1997), Aluminum Precision Products Inc. and Smoky Mountain Helicopters.

The couple, Judy and Doug Barton, were among four passengers on an Inter-Island Helicopters air tour when it crashed on March 11, 2007, on Kaua’i’s north shore after the helicopter’s tail section blew apart in flight. Witnesses said they saw at least two pieces of the copter fall into the ocean.

The Bartons, on what was supposed to have been a 55-minute tour, were about 1,000 feet up when the helicopter began to experience trouble. They were seated in the rear of the helicopter and suffered spine injuries when it crashed in a grassy area near the YMCA’s Camp Naue.

Passenger Michael Gershon, 60, of Walnut Creek, Calif., was killed, and another passenger, Dania Hansen, 60, of Los Altos, Calif., suffered serious injuries.

Inter-Island helicopter pilot Donald Torres also was injured.

It was the second fatal crash of a Kaua’i tour helicopter in three days and occurred just five miles from where a Heli USA Airways helicopter had crashed, killing the pilot and three of his passengers.

Wife now paralyzed

Couple settles picture

New Hampshire resident Judy Barton is paralyzed below the waist because of injuries suffered in a tour helicopter crash on Kaua’i

“They’re very pleased,” said L. Richard Fried Jr., the Honolulu attorney representing the Bartons.

He added: “Like a lot of my clients, they’d rather be healthy and without all the money.”

Judy Barton, 52, was left with no feeling below her waist and has no bowel or bladder functions, Fried said. She will require daily nursing help, Fried said.

Her husband, Doug, 61, suffered a similar spinal cord injury. He can walk, but not without severe pain, Fried said.

So far, the couple have accumulated $750,000 in medical bills, Fried said.

The cause of the crash was determined to be a defective fitting that connected the tail rotor.

The pilot attempted a procedure known as autorotation to slow the helicopter’s descent, but it wasn’t enough to prevent the crash.

Inter-Island Air could not be reached for comment yesterday.

After the crash, the National Transportation Safety Board grounded all Hughes 500 series helicopters. Two that were in operation in New Zealand were found to have the same defect to fittings in the tail rotor.

The crashed helicopter was built by McDonnell Douglas Helicopter Systems in 1987 and was owned by Smoky Mountain Helicopters Inc., doing business as Inter-Island Helicopters, according to FAA records. The Bartons’ suit named Aluminum Precision Products Inc., the manufacturer of the defective fitting, and Smoky Mountain Helicopters as defendants.

The settlement was reached through mediation and because of full disclosure from McDonnell Douglas, said Fried.

Previous failures

Research showed that the same helicopter had 16 tail rotor failures, 10 of which were due to tail rotor metal fatigue.

“(The Bartons) were living in a comfortable, but tight trailer. As a result of this settlement, they will build a wheelchair friendly home on their property,” Fried said. “They’ve put a fair amount of the money into a structured settlement. This was a disaster for them. She has an unbelievable attitude and is trying to carry on and move on and is even trying to work a few hours a week at the bank. Her husband has too much pain and is unable to work at the machine shop.”

The couple grew up and have lived in the Newport, N.H., area their whole life, Fried said.

“I’m sure they’ll be very, very prudent,” Fried said. “They’re very solid folks, and I’m sure that’s what led to the settlement agreement.”