$2,250,000 Settlement for Death of Foreigner
in Workplace Accident in S. America
The decedent was a 42 year old Central American who was working for a U.S. government contractor in South America as a helicopter mechanic. The flight operations included helicopter armament activities with the GAU-17 minigun, a six-barreled gatling gun capable of firing 4000 rounds per minute. he decedent reported to work in South America from his home in Central America. The Defendant contractor employed him with a written contract that chose Florida law as the choice of law over any disputes over the employment contract. Plaintiff signed his employment contract overseas and never visited the Defendant’s Florida headquarters.
On February 22, 2000 a helicopter returned to the airfield because of a stoppage in the minigun and the gun technician removed the failed weapon and replaced it. The failed weapon was not cleared when it was removed from the helicopter and was carried into the hangar where the decedent was working. The gun technician failed to install a steel cap trap assembly that contains a bullet should the gun fire. The minigun fires by rotating the barrels. If the safing sector is removed, then it disables the minigun. The gun technician began to troubleshoot the mingun in the hangar with the safing sector still installed. When the technician rotated the barrels, the weapon fired one round that struck the decedent killing him instantly. The decedent was survived by a spouse, teenage daughter, and two adult sons, all residents of Central America.
P&K filed suit against the employer for negligence for failing to designate a safe area or hot pad for weapons clearing, for failing to provide and use bullet trap assemblies, and for working on a weapon aimed at an area of personnel. P&K also alleged that the Defendant managed the entire South America operation from Florida and that Florida law should apply but defendant contested this.
The Defendant tried blamed the decedent and alleged that he stood in front of the minigun during an approved clearing procedure, and then tried to blame the minigun manufacturer claiming that the weapon was defective. To rebut these defenses, P&K retained the designer of the original minigun who wrote the safety manual for the minigun, and a weapons qualified helicopter maintenance officer to discuss weapons clearing procedures.
The Defendant argued that there was little or no connection with Florida and that all activities occurred in South America. Defendant retained a foreign law expert who testified that either the law of the place of injury or place of decedent’s residence should apply in this case. Defendant argued that the clause selecting Florida law only applied to disputes over the employment contract and not negligence actions. P&K retained the former Supreme Court Justice of the Central American country of the decedent’s domicile and a retired judge from the country where the injury occurred, who both testified that Florida law should apply. There were no pain and suffering damages under the law of the Plaintiff’s domicile and the experts disagreed whether the place of injury law provides a cap on such damages. The case settled for $2,250,000 after the Plaintiff’s experts filed opinions on liability and after expert filings and oral argument on the critical choice of law question.