Product Liability Defense

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Beutal, et al. v. Hughes Helicopters, Houston

This product-liability case involved two wrongful deaths resulting from a helicopter crash. Opposing plaintiff’s counsel was the legendary Joe Jamail, of Texaco v. Pennzoil fame. Mr. Jamail represented the family of a man who had earned a seven-figure income and left behind a wife and two small children. The plaintiff’s case involved several product-liability issues. Defendant Hughes Helicopters, represented by Rose Walker attorney Martin Rose, claimed the crash was caused by pilot error.

Jamail told Rose before trial that if he didn’t settle up, the case would go to the jury on Christmas Eve and he would ask them to give his widow a nice Christmas present. Sure enough, the case went to the jury on Christmas Eve and Mr. Jamail asked for $37 million in damages, but the jury awarded just $225,000, finding the pilot 95 percent at fault and the manufacturer 5 percent at fault for failure to warn, for net verdict of just $12,500. A fight ensued in the courtroom when Jamail took a swing at the jury foreman. Mr. Jamail’s client was awarded a new trial by the state district court trial judge and the case subsequently settled quietly.

If you want to hear about trials during the wild and woolly days of Texas’ anything-goes courtrooms, just ask Martin about it. It was this trial that convinced Rose that Texas was where he belonged.