Dr. Luis Bonilla and Dr. David Hines were killed in a Palatka, Florida helicopter crash early this morning. Both men are Mayo Clinic doctors who were flying to deliver a heart to a transplant patient. Unfortunately, the donor heart was also lost and the transplant patient has been put back on a waiting list.
(Photo Credit: Mayo Clinic and Kare11 News)
As the child of an SICU nurse mom and a neurosurgeon stepfather, this particular case resonates with me on a very personal level. Im not only bothered by the fact that three lives were lost, but the manner in which they were lost.
Namely, these three men, Dr. Luis Bonilla, Dr. David Hines, and the helicopter pilot were all engaged in a life saving mission. Their work was both honorable and benevolent in nature. To see them lose their lives doing this type of work strikes a chord and is nothing short of complete tragedy.
Not to mention the fact that the death of these doctors includes the loss of highly skilled, extremely specialized medical professionals. There is no doubt in my mind that these men would have continued to save lives, had they been given the opportunity to live longer.
This case is a real loss all around. It is loss for the men, it is a loss for the families, and it is a loss for the community and the patients they served.
As a Florida trial lawyer, my perspective on this blog is directed to the legal issues presented in cases of these types.
When it comes to wrongful death or accident fatalities, there are usually two main concerns for any injury attorney. Since the extreme nature of damages is already known, this case will focus on causation and a potential defendant’s ability to compensate the deceased for their loss.
At the expense of sounding like a lawyer, it is important to recognize that the administration of justice in this country is measured in two ways: 1) dollars and 2) loss of liberty. Since this case is civil in nature, any justice obtained on behalf of the deceased in a court of law will be limited to monetary compensation.
If an investigation of this case reveals that one or more parties acted with negligence, then the victims’ families may wish to hold those liable parties accountable for their actions (or inactions).
For instance, what if this crash occurred because the helicopter company failed to properly maintain the helicopter? In the alternative, what if this crash occurred because the helicopter company ignored a known hazardous condition in the helicopter, such as too much flight weight or defective parts?
I’m not saying there was one in this case, but what would you think if the helicopter company was on notice of, but ignored, an important safety recall on a defective engine part or component?
This is just but one example of the many things an injury attorney will consider when evaluating a case of this type. Like a doctor, a lawyer analyzes clues as though they were symptoms and he/she was trying to diagnose an underlying illness, or in this case, an underlying causation for the crash.
As I write this, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) are conducting a very thorough and comprehensive investigation into this case. They will soon determine the cause of the crash by examining the helicopter’s wreckage, the debris field, flight recorder data, radio communications, and by taking statements from eye witnesses or people located nearby who may have heard the crash.
The maintenance history of the helicopter will undoubtedly be scrutinized as well.
When an aircraft falls out of the sky, there is always a reason. In a court of law, this reason is referred to as “causation.”
Whether the cause of this accident is due to negligence of a particular party or parties is yet to be seen.
Regardless, Dr. Bonilla, Dr. Hines, and the helicopter pilot’s families should all retain Florida injury lawyers to represent their interests in this matter. Handling cases like these requires substantial experience.
In many ways, the practice of law is similar to that of medicine. When a client or patient comes to a practitioner with a serious problem, it is always best to act sooner than later. In the context of injury litigation, it is extremely important for accident attorneys to start building their case correctly from the beginning.
When it comes to a helicopter crash, a good personal injury lawyer will send his best investigator to scour the area for witnesses and to collect as much information about the crash as possible.
From there, a review of any and all facts and findings made by investigators (especially the FAA and NTSB) must be scrutinized. In some instances, a good injury lawyer will retain his/her own expert to review the information if it is something that is not properly evaluated or easily understood by a lay person.
In any event, the terrible loss in this case is tremendous. For that reason, if one party is found to be liable, such as the helicopter company or another entity that may have performed maintenance or provided replacement parts, the families of these men may be entitled to very substantial compensation.
The fact that at least two men were highly specialized doctors will mean that their families will need to be compensated for their loss of future earnings. The same would apply to the helicopter pilot, assuming he was not responsible for the crash due to his own negligence.
Finally, I would also mention that the transplant patient may have a claim if he/she suffers an injury or worse due to the delay in getting a replacement heart. If some person or some company is liable for causing that helicopter crash and the heart patient suffered an injury or death, it may be possible to make a claim.
Despite all of the aforementioned, I must caution that much more information is needed about the fine details of this helicopter crash before any lawyer can render an opinion or before any conclusions can be drawn.
At this point it is simply unknown who, if anyone, is liable for this helicopter crash. The FAA and NTSB reports will be very telling.
At the end of the day, my heart goes out to the victims, their families, and all those who will be effected by this terrible accident. I don’t know if these men with their special talents can ever be replaced. What a loss.