Chopper lawsuit gets technical

Cougar and Sikorsky debate procedure in $27-million legal dispute

Moira Baird
Published on October 19, 2010

Lawyers for Cougar Helicopters and Sikorsky Aircraft Corp. were in court Monday to debate a procedural issue in Cougar’s $27-million lawsuit against the U.S. helicopter manufacturer.

At issue is whether or not Cougar can drop a Sikorsky subsidiary, Helicopter Services Inc., from the lawsuit it launched in June.

That matter is also part of a larger argument about which court has jurisdiction to hear the civil action in the first place —Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court or a court in Connecticut.

A hearing is set for Nov. 22-23 in St. John’s to decide jurisdiction.

The lawsuit stems from the March 12, 2009, helicopter crash off Newfoundland that killed 17 of 18 of people on board. The S-92 helicopter was manufactured by Sikorsky.

Last month, Cougar served notice it was discontinuing its civil action against Helicopter Services Inc. (HSI), which provides parts and support services to customers of Sikorsky aircraft, including the S-92 helicopter.

Cougar lawyer Kevin Stamp told the court the St. John’s helicopter transportation company no longer intends to proceed against HSI.

Under the rules, he argued Cougar’s action against HSI can be discontinued any time prior to the November hearing that will determine jurisdiction.

Cougar argues the civil action should be heard in Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court.

Sikorsky lawyer Ronald Noseworthy said Cougar should have asked for permission from the court to withdraw its civil action against HSI — rather than simply issue a notice.

He said discontinuing the civil action is a matter for a judge to decide.

Noseworthy also argued his client maintains that a Connecticut court is the only venue with jurisdiction over a contract between HSI and Cougar.

Toward the end of Monday morning’s proceedings, Justice David Orsborn asked, “Are we dancing on the head of a pin?”

He did not render a decision Monday — saying he would need some time to do so.

Last year, the pilots of Cougar Flight 491 reported a loss of oil pressure in the helicopter’s main gearbox as they were transporting offshore workers to the White Rose and Hibernia oilfields.

Minutes after heading back toward shore, the helicopter plunged into the Atlantic Ocean 55 kilometres east of St. John’s.

Cougar and eight insurance companies launched the lawsuit against Sikorsky and HSI in June.

Cougar claims Sikorsky misrepresented how long its S-92 helicopter could continue flying after losing oil from the main gearbox.

Statements of claim contain allegations that have not been proven in court.

Sikorsky has yet to file a statement of defence.