First mother, now father files wrongful death suit over helicopter crash

Kelly Holleran Mar. 2, 2009, 8:27am

In little more than a week after his mother filed a lawsuit, James Smalts' father has filed suit alleging that his son died in a helicopter crash because of the negligence of the manufacturer and owner of the aircraft.

Clyde Smalts filed a wrongful death suit on behalf of James Smalts in Jefferson County District Court on Feb. 24. James Smalts' mother, Gayle Spikes, filed a similar suit on Feb. 13.

According to the lawsuit against Rotorcraft Leasing Co. and Bell Helicopter Textron, James Smalts was killed on Dec. 11 as he was traveling in a helicopter to an offshore rig where he worked as a gauger for Island Operating Co.

About 10 minutes after takeoff, the helicopter malfunctioned and crashed into a 58-degree ocean. Smalts and the other four men on the helicopter were killed.

"When authorities recovered Mr. Smalts' body they found it badly beaten and cut," the suit states.

At the time of his death, James Smalts was engaged, Clyde Smalts claims.

He was also an "accomplished artist and loved to play guitar," the suit states.

Because of James Smalts' death, the family incurred funeral and burial expenses, lost wages and lost services, according to the complaint.

They also lost business opportunities, suffered mental anguish, bereavement, grief, loss of James Smalts' love, affection, solace and society and experienced emotional distress, loss of enjoyment, services and financial support, the suit states.

Before James Smalts' flight, the helicopter had a history of mechanical failures, Clyde Smalts alleges.

According to the lawsuit, in 2002 it rolled hard to the left before taking off, which resulted in a hard landing. In addition, there have been at least two other helicopter crashes involving Rotorcraft aircrafts in the Gulf of Mexico between 2004 until now, the suit states.

Rotorcraft and Bell had a duty to ensure the helicopter was without defect, but breached that duty by failing to keep the helicopter in a proper state of repair, by failing to give it proper maintenance and by failing to properly operate it, Clyde Smalts alleges.

The helicopter was defective because it had a tendency to develop engine, transmission, mechanical and electrical problems, according to the complaint.

The plaintiff alleges that even though Bell knew the helicopter had a tendency to develop engine problems, it did not warn people who were flying on it of the potential hazards.

According to the complaint, Rotorcraft and Bell were negligent by:

  • Failing to warn James Smalts;
  • Failing to maintain the helicopter; Failing to test the helicopter;
  • Failing to hire, train and supervise their pilot;
  • Failing to know the dangers of the helicopter;
  • Failing to disclose the dangers; and
  • Failing to properly manufacture the helicopter.

    Clyde Smalts is seeking unspecified compensatory, actual, consequential, mental anguish, emotional distress, statutory, common law and exemplary damages, plus interest, attorneys' fess and other relief the court deems just.

    Perry Neichoy of Beaumont and Kurt B. Arnold, Jason A. Itkin and Jeff R. Seely of Arnold and Itkin in Houston will be representing the plaintiff.

    The case has been assigned to Judge Bob Wortham, 58th District Court.

    Case No. A183-371

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