A Frederick County jury awarded approximately $17 million Tuesday to the families of two helicopter pilots killed in a crash near the Frederick Municipal Airport in 2014.
Jurors, following three days of deliberation and a two-week trial, awarded approximately $12 million to William Jenkins’ family and $5 million to Christopher Parsons’ family, portions of which will be subject to Maryland’s cap on noneconomic damages. The family of a third man who died in the helicopter, Brendan MacFawn, did not join the wrongful death lawsuit.
The jury found negligent the actions of Midwest Air Traffic Control Services Inc., which staffed the control tower for the airport, according to Robert R. Michael, who represented the families of Parsons and Jenkins.
Parsons was an instructor giving a “check ride” to Jenkins, who was piloting the helicopter Oct. 23, 2014 when it collided in midair with a small plane. Testimony during the trial revealed the air traffic controller managing the tower was communicating with another plane on the ground asking for clearance for takeoff and did not hear some of the transmissions from the plane approaching the airport, Michael said.
An investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board faulted Parsons and Jenkins, but Michael called the investigation “inadequate” and said the jury heard much more information than NTSB investigators did.
With the defendants claiming Parsons and Jenkins were negligent, the families were seeking vindication from the trial more than financial compensation, added Michael, of Shadoan, Michael & Wells LLP in Rockville.
“The biggest thing they said to me right at the end was the relief they had that the pilots’ reputations had been restored,” he said. “It’s like they say, no amount of money brings back the people you love.”
Michael said the fatal crash “did not have to happen” but the airport did not have a published altitude for helicopters at the time of the collision. Since then, a noise abatement level of 1,100 feet for helicopters – which is optional – has been added but helicopter pilots say it puts them too close to the altitude for planes.
“They’ve got to get together and figure this out or there’s going to be another one like this,” Michael said.
Midwest Air Traffic Control Services was represented by Scott H. Phillips of Semmes, Bowen & Semmes PC in Baltimore and William J. Conroy and Emily J. Rogers of Campbell, Campbell, Edwards & Conroy PC in Berwyn, Pennsylvania. Defense attorneys did not return calls seeking comment Wednesday.
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Ashley Renae Parsons, et al. v. Midwest Air Traffic Control Services Inc., et al.
Court: Frederick County Circuit Court
Case No.: 10C15002746
Judge: Julie R. Stevenson Solt
Proceeding: Jury trial
Outcome: $16,558 economic damages, $300,000 noneconomic damages to Parsons estate; $3 million economic damages, $750,000 noneconomic damages to Ashlee Parsons (wife); $500,000 noneconomic damages to Nancy Parsons (mother); $500,000 noneconomic damages to Keith Parsons (father); $4,500.16 economic damages, $300,000 noneconomic damages to Jenkins estate; $8 million economic damages, $750,000 noneconomic damages to Noelle Jenkins (wife); $1 million noneconomic damages to William Samuel Jenkins (son); $1 million noneconomic damages to Thomas Jenkins (son); $500,000 noneconomic damages to Linda Jenkins Armbrust (mother).
Incident: Oct. 23, 2014
Suit filed: Sept. 29, 2015
Verdict: April 11, 2017
Plaintiffs’ Attorneys: Robert R. Michael of Shadoan, Michael & Wells LLP in Rockville; William O’Brien Finch Jr., Westminster solo practitioner, Bruce A. Lampert of Katzman, Lampert & McClune in Colorado
Defendants’ Attorneys: Scott H. Phillips of Semmes, Bowen & Semmes P.C. in Baltimore; William J. Conroy and Emily J. Rogers of Campbell, Campbell, Edwards & Conroy P.C. in Berwyn, Pennsylvania