Divided COA dismisses negligence suit in fatal helicopter crash

A divided Indiana Court of Appeals panel ruled for three aerospace defendants in a negligence case brought by victims of a fatal helicopter crash that took place in Mississippi, finding Indiana has no personal jurisdiction in the matter.

Following a 2015 helicopter crash that killed two passengers and severely injured one, Colleen Ricks, Cynthia Cobb and Brendan Mullen sued Cadorath Aerospace Lafayette, LLC, Cadorath Aerospace, Inc., and H-S Tool & Parts, Inc. At the time of the crash, the helicopter’s Rolls-Royce Model 250 engine allegedly failed.

All three defendants had entered into an Authorized Repair Facility agreement with Rolls-Royce, which contemplated that the entities would work together in the future to develop repair processes and to complete off-manual repairs at these facilities. The accident victims thus claimed that the defendants performed negligent repair work in the outer combustion case of the engine sometime after an overhaul that took place years prior.

A trial court denied both the Cadorath Defendants’ and H-S Tool’s motions to dismiss the case for lack of personal jurisdiction. In an interlocutory appeal the defendants argued, among other things, that there are insufficient minimum contacts between the Cadorath Defendants, H-S Tool, and the state of Indiana to establish specific personal jurisdiction. A divided Indiana Court of Appeals agreed in a Thursday decision, reversing in the defendants’ favor and dismissing the case.

The appellate majority noted that nearly identical evidence existed to show that no repairs took place in Indiana. Cadorath LLC, the majority found, conducts its services at a repair facility in Louisiana and is organized under the laws of Louisiana. Likewise, Cadorath, Inc., conducts services at a repair facility in Winnipeg, Canada, where its principal place of business resides, as well as H-S Tool, a Canadian corporation established under the laws of British Columbia.

“In sum, Indiana does not have personal jurisdiction over this matter. We recognize the financial and pragmatic strain that this decision places on all parties involved. However, we will not find personal jurisdiction when it is plainly not present,” Judge John Baker wrote for the majority. “Additionally, we have neither the necessary information nor the judicial authority to decree exactly where the parties should litigate this matter. We only find that the evidence and legal arguments proffered by all parties lead us to one singular conclusion: the trial court erred.”

In a separate opinion, Judge James Kirsch dissented from the majority’s conclusion, finding the Cadorath Defendants and H-S Tool did consent to jurisdiction because they are Rolls-Royce Authorized Repair Facilities as a result of their agreements with Rolls-Royce.

“Those agreements stated that all suits relating to the agreements shall be brought and tried in Marion County, Indiana,” Kirsch wrote. “… While their day-to-day business is conducted outside the state of Indiana, H-S Tool and the Cadorath Defendants have extensive contacts with Rolls-Royce in Indiana, and each of the three entities has consented to jurisdiction in Indiana for matters relating to their agreement.”

The dissenting judge said he would therefore affirm and remand for trial in Cadorath Aerospace Lafayette, LLC, et al. v. Colleen Ricks, as the Personal Representative of the Estate of Brandon Seth Ricks, et al., 18A-CT-2953.

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