By Keith Coffman
DENVER (Reuters) - A former Colorado flight nurse who survived a helicopter ambulance crash with horrific burns over 90 percent of his body will receive a record $100 million cash settlement from the maker and operator of the aircraft, his lawyer said on Thursday.
The sum is believed to be the largest U.S. pretrial settlement ever reached in an individual personal injury civil claim, said Gary Robb, an attorney for the crash survivor, David Repsher, 47. The case had been set for trial on March 5.
The Flight For Life helicopter crashed on take-off on July 3, 2015, from the St. Anthony Summit Medical Center in Frisco, a mountain town about 70 miles west of Denver.
A second flight nurse, Matthew Bowe, was also badly injured, and the pilot, Patrick Mahany, was killed. The three men had been en route to a public relations event at a Boy Scout camp and there were no patients on board.
The thrust of Repsher's lawsuit, filed in Summit County District Court, was that the chopper's French manufacturer, Airbus Helicopters SAS, had failed to equip the aircraft with a crash-resistant fuel system, leading its fuel tank to burst into flames on impact.
Such systems have been mandated on newly certified helicopters since 1994. But Robb said Airbus took advantage of a regulatory loophole to avoid the safety requirement.
Robb cited U.S. government findings that as of November 2014 about 85 percent of domestically registered helicopters made after 1994 lacked crash-resistant fuel systems.
The lawsuit also alleged that the aircraft's tail rotor system was flawed and that mechanics employed by privately owned Colorado helicopter operator Air Methods Corp "failed to properly repair, maintain and inspect" the AS350-B3e helicopter.
Repsher, who had not been expected to survive the first 24 hours after the crash, sustained full-thickness burns over 90 percent of his body, in some places extending down the bone.
He spent 11 months hospitalized in an intensive care unit for burn victims and has endured hundreds of surgeries and other procedures, Robb said.
He suffered permanent hearing loss, severe disfigurement and loss of function of his hands, and has had to learn to swallow, eat, talk, stand and walk all over again.
"It was his amazing character and indomitable spirit that carried him through and allowed him to survive," Robb said of his client.
Robb said a separate lawsuit brought by Bowe has also been "resolved" but remains confidential.
Airbus and Air Methods both said in statement that safety was their top priority, and both said they had taken a number of steps to improve the safety and crash-worthiness of their helicopters.
A representative for the legal research service VerdictSearch confirmed that the $100 million sum was the highest pretrial settlement amount in its database for a single-plaintiff personal injury case.
Repsher plans to use some proceeds to form a private foundation promoting emergency medical flight safety and burn survivor support, Robb said.
(Writing and additional reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)