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Laugelle v. Bell Helicopter Textron, Inc.

Superior Court of Delaware, New Castle

February 27, 2014

SUSAN DURKIN LAUGELLE, individually and as personal representative of the Estate of Joseph Laugelle, Jr., deceased, and as Next Friend to Anna Grace Laugelle and Margaret Grace Laugelle, Plaintiffs,

Submitted January 28, 2013

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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Upon Third-Party Plaintiff Bristow/Air Logistic's Motion for Summary Judgment DENIED. Upon Third-Party Defendant Rotocraft Leasing Co.'s Motion for Summary Judgment GRANTED. Upon Defendant Rolls-Royce's Motion for Summary Judgment GRANTED. Upon Defendant Rolls-Royce's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment on Warranty and Punitive Damages Claims MOOT. Upon Defendants Bell Helicopter Textron Inc. and Bell Helicopter Canada's Motion for Summary Judgment GRANTED in PART. Upon Defendant Honeywell International, Inc.'s Motion for Partial Summary Judgment on Punitive Damages Claims GRANTED.

Gary W. Aber, Esquire, Law Offices of Gary W. Aber, Wilmington, Delaware; Bradley J. Stoll, Esquire, (pro hac vice) (argued), and Cynthia M. Devers, Esquire, (pro hac vice) The Wolk Law Firm, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Attorneys for Plaintiffs.

Richard Alan Barkasy, Esquire, (argued), and J. Denny Shupe, Esquire, (argued), Schnader, Harrison, Segal & Lewis LLP, Wilmington, Delaware, Attorneys for Defendants Rolls-Royce Corp. and Rolls-Royce North America, Inc.

Richard Galperin, Esquire, and David J. Soldo, Esquire, Morris James LLP, Wilmington, Delaware; V.L. Woolston, Esquire, (pro hac vice) (argued) Perkins Coie LLP, Seattle, Washington, Attorneys for Defendant Honeywell International Inc.

Joseph S. Shannon, Esquire, and Artemio C. Aranilla, II, Esquire, Marshall Dennehey Warner Coleman & Goggin, Wilmington, Delaware; J. Bruce McKissock, Esquire, (pro hac vice) (argued), Marshall Dennehey Warner Coleman & Goggin, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Attorneys for Defendants Air Logistics LLC and Bristow Group.

Vernon R. Proctor, Esquire, Proctor Heyman LLP, Wilmington, Delaware and Gregory W. Carboy, Esquire, (pro hac vice) (argued), Cowles & Thompson, Dallas, Texas, Attorneys for Defendant Rotocraft Leasing, LLC.

Paul R. Wallace, Judge.


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I. Introduction

This wrongful death action arises out of a helicopter crash that occurred on December 11, 2008, in the Gulf of Mexico, off the coast of Sabine Pass, Texas.[1] Joseph Laugelle, Jr. (" Pilot" ), the pilot of the helicopter, was transporting four passengers to an off-shore oil rig, when the helicopter crashed into the ocean about two miles offshore.[2]

In December 2010, Plaintiff Susan Durkin Laugelle, the Pilot's wife, brought suit against several manufacturers of helicopter, engine, and engine parts, as well as a company that previously owned and maintained the helicopter. Mrs. Laugelle alleges, inter alia, that her husband died as a result of chest injuries and asphyxia due to drowning; [3] these injuries, she claims, were the result of Defendants' negligence in the design, manufacturer, and/or maintenance of the helicopter and its components. She seeks damages for wrongful death on behalf of herself, as personal representative of the Pilot's estate, and as next friend to the Laugelles' two minor daughters (collectively " Plaintiffs" ).

In short, Plaintiffs allege that the accident engine lost power when a foreign substance contaminated and blocked a component of the power turbine governor (" PTG" ),[4] and that the engine should have been equipped with a " manual override" for the PTG. Defendants deny liability, and argue, inter alia, that pilot error caused the crash, the Pilot's resultant injuries, and any other harm Plaintiffs claim. Defendant and Third-Party Plaintiff Bristow Group and Air Logistics LLC (collectively " Bristow/AL" ) filed a third-party complaint against the Pilot's employer, Rotocraft Leasing Co. (" RLC" ), alleging breach of contract and breach of duty to indemnify and defend.

Defendants Bell Helicopter Textron Inc. and Bell Helicopter Canada Ltd. (collectively " Bell" ), Rolls-Royce Corp. and Rolls-Royce North America, Inc. (collectively " RRC" ), and Honeywell International Inc. (" Honeywell" ) have each moved for summary judgment. In addition, RRC moved for partial summary judgment on the warranty and punitive damages claims. Bristow/AL and RLC have both moved for summary judgment on the third-party complaint. This is the Court's decision on those six motions.[5]

II. Factual and Procedural Background

A. The Plaintiffs and the Accident

At the time of his death, the Pilot was a resident of Massachusetts, where he lived with his wife and his two daughters. As a RLC employee, the Pilot shuttled passengers between the United States mainland and offshore oil rigs throughout the Gulf of

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Mexico. On December 11, 2008, the Pilot operated a Bell 206L-4 helicopter, identified as N180AL [6] (the " accident helicopter" ), which contained an Allison model 250-C30P turbine engine [7] (the " accident engine" ) that was equipped with a PTG manufactured by Honeywell.[8] The accident helicopter, with the Pilot and four passengers aboard, crashed into the Gulf of Mexico approximately 2 miles off-shore. There were no survivors.

B. The Dispute Between Bristow/AL and RLC

In 2008, Bristow/AL sold assets including helicopters (the " Purchased Aircraft" ), spare parts and components, and flight contracts to Rotocraft Leasing Co. (again " RLC" ). An Asset Purchase Agreement (the " PA" ) governing the transaction was dated August 5, 2008, but did not close until October 30, 2008.[9] As part of the asset transfer, Bristow/AL transferred the accident helicopter, a Bell 206L identified as N180AL, to RLC on November 15, 2008.

In addition to the PA, Bristow/AL and RLC entered into a Transition Service Agreement (" TSA" ), dated October 30, 2008, which governed the relationship between the two parties during the period of time required for RLC to obtain FAA approval to operate the Purchased Aircraft under its Part 135 Certificate.[10] Under the TSA, Bristow/AL continued to operate some of the Purchased Aircraft as an employee of RLC.[11] In addition, the TSA contemplated risk allocation and included indemnity clauses:[12]

The Parties intend and agree that . . . [RLC] shall release, indemnify, hold harmless and defend (including payment of reasonable attorneys fees and costs of litigation) [Bristow/AL] from and against any and all claims, demands, causes of action, damages, judgments and awards of any kind or character, without limit and without regard to the cause or causes thereof, strict liability, tort,

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breach of contract, or the negligence of any person or persons, including that of [Bristow/AL], whether such negligence be . . . any . . . theory of legal liability.[13]

The TSA also required RLC to add Bristow/AL as an additional insured on its policies, though RLC never did.[14]

C. The Accident Engine and Accident Helicopter [15]

The accident helicopter contained an Allison 250-C30P, a turbine engine manufactured by General Motors Corporation's Allison Gas Turbine Division (" GM" ) in 1993. GM shipped the accident engine to Bell, a helicopter manufacturer, on October 22, 1993.[16] Bell incorporated the accident engine into the accident helicopter, a Bell model 206L-4, and soon after, on December 15, 1993, Bell sold the accident helicopter to Offshore Logistics Inc. (" Offshore Logistics" ), a predecessor-in-interest to Bristow/AL. Following sale of the accident helicopter to Offshore Logistics, Bell sent GM a Commercial Aircraft Delivery Report on January 4, 1994.[17]

On December 1, 1993, GM had sold the assets of its Allison Turbine Division to AEC Acquisition Corp. (" AEC" ), which later changed its name to Allison Engine Company, Inc. (" Allison" ), in an all-cash transaction. The parties do not dispute that the Asset Purchase Agreement (" APA" ) governing the sale expressly provided that GM would retain all liabilities, obligations, and commitments with respect to personal injury, wrongful death, or property claims arising out of an accident allegedly caused by an engine " sold or leased" by GM before December 1, 1993, and that Allison would have no liability for such claims.[18] Plaintiffs and RRC do dispute whether GM's shipping of the accident engine to Bell, which occurred before December 1, 1993, or Bell's sale of the completed helicopter to the Offshore Logistics, which occurred after December 1, 1993, constitutes the sale or lease as referenced in the APA.

On March 24, 1995, over a year after GM's sale of its Allison Turbine Division assets, Rolls-Royce plc [19] purchased all of Allison's assets in an arms-length transaction and began manufacturing the Allison 250-C30P model engine. About five years later, Allison changed its name to RRC. For purposes of this opinion, the Court will refer to Allison as RRC from the point of its acquisition by ...

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