Millions Awarded to Crash Victims

Thursday, September 4, 2008
By George Hatcher

Two helicopters–both crews using night-vision goggles–participated in the nighttime maneuvers on Jan. 22, 2004 – a “low bird” that flew close to the ground and a “high bird” that flew above looking for possible obstructions. As the helicopters were leaving Talega Canyon, the UH-1N helicopter known as a Huey struck a 135-foot utility tower. The Cobra was intact. The Huey was not. All the victims were Iraq veterans attached to the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit.

Fast forward to 2008. (Cases like these take years to go to trial.)

Family members of Capt. Adam E. Miller, 29; 1st Lt. Michael S. Lawlor, 26; Staff Sgt. Lori A. Privette, 27; and Cpl. Joshua D. Harris, 21, asked for unspecified damages in the wrongful-death lawsuit. In a jury decision, over $15 million was awarded on Wednesday to the families of four Marines killed. Plus some $50 million in punitive damages.

San Diego Gas & Electric, which owned the tower was determined by the jury to be negligent and “acted with malice” by not installing safety devices to prevent accidents. After a three week trial and deliberating one day, the jury determined that the parents of all four Marines should receive $2.125 million. Lawlor’s wife was entitled to $4.5 million for the loss and $2.2 million in lost earnings.

SDG&E bore 56 percent of the responsibility for the collision because they knew about the hazard and failed to follow safety recommendations. Pilots and other parties shared the rest of the blame. After the trial’s punitive damages phase, the jury awarded $10.1 million to the families of each Marine who died in the crash.

Since the accident, SDG&E has installed lights.

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