Helicopter Maker Fights Suit by Tennessee Soldiers’ Families Over Deadly Crash

June 5, 2013

A federal judge will rule in coming weeks whether the families of two Tennessee National Guard members can sue the makers of a helicopter in which the soldiers died.

According to the Knoxville News Sentinel, the case involves a 2010 crash of a Kiowa OH-58D Warrior helicopter in Iraq.

The lawsuit was filed by the mother of Capt. Marcus Ray Alford of Knoxville, who was 28, and the husband of 25-year-old Chief Warrant Office 2 Billie Jean Grinder from Gallatin.

Bell Helicopter Textron Inc. and suppliers to the company are named as defendants in the $80 million lawsuit.

“The accident occurred in the theater of war on a mission in support of the war in Iraq,” wrote attorneys Bryan S. David of Texas, and Brigid M. Carpenter of Knoxville. “The decisions made and products used by the military associated with the accident constitute a uniquely federal interest in significant conflict with state laws. This includes the military’s training decisions, maintenance decisions, procurement decisions and decisions regarding positioning and use of equipment.”

The lawsuit was initially filed in state court, but has been moved to U.S. District Court in Knoxville.

The families blame the crash on the failure of a system known as the Full Authority Digital Electronic Control, or FADEC.

Alford and Grinder were killed when the helicopter they were flying crashed south of Mosul, Iraq.

The military has said they were not under fire and there were no enemy forces nearby.

Bell and its parts makers do not concede FADEC failure caused the crash or that the system was defective.

The parts suppliers include Rolls-Royce North America Inc., Goodrich Pump and Engine Control Systems, Unison Industries and Honeywell International.

In the latest filing in the case, Bell’s attorneys contend soldiers and their survivors are barred from suing not only the military but its contractors in times of war even if injury or death results in noncombat situations.

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