Military helicopter crashes but automatic distress signal is not sent. Defense verdict. Federal District Court, Los Angeles. .


Pilot says failure to send emergency signal resulted in delayed rescue and exacerbated his injuries.

The Case

  • Case Name: Carpenter, et al. v. Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation, et al.
  • Court and Case Number: Central District of Los Angeles / 2:14-cv-07793-JAK-AJW
  • Date of Verdict or Judgment: Wednesday, July 19, 2023
  • Date Action was Filed: Wednesday, October 08, 2014
  • Type of Case: Aviation Related
  • Judge or Arbitrator(s): Hon. John A. Kronstadt
  • Plaintiffs:
    Jon Ternstrom
    Maria Ternstrom
  • Defendants:
    Cubic Defense Applications, Inc.
  • Type of Result: Jury Verdict

The Result

  • Gross Verdict or Award: Defense verdict
  • Trial or Arbitration Time: 6 days
  • Jury Deliberation Time: Less than one hour

The Attorneys

  • Attorney for the Plaintiff:

    Motley Rice, LLC by James R. Brauchle, Mount Pleasant, SC.

  • Attorney for the Defendant:

    Wilson Elser Moskowitz Edelman & Dicker, LLP by Patrick J. Kearns and Sarena L. Kustic, San Diego.

The Experts

  • Plaintiff's Technical Expert(s):

    Major General William D. Waff, military procedures.

    Colonel Michael McCarthy, military procedures.

    John Bloomfield, aircraft electrical systems.

  • Defendant's Technical Expert(s):

    Tuan Tran, engineering, design/development of the subject transponder/ELT.

Facts and Background

  • Facts and Background:

    The case stemmed from a 2014 crash of a Sikorsky MH-60 Special Operations Helicopter flown by the United States Army’s 160th SOAR Division. The crash occurred on Hunter Army Airfield in Georgia, following a routine training mission. The Army conducted an inspection and determined the crash was caused by a tail rotor malfunction that caused the aircraft to spin out of control. The crash spawned litigation against numerous parties that were ultimately separated, and litigated in different venues around the country.

    By the time of trial, only plaintiffs Jon and Maria Ternstrom and defendant Cubic Defense Applications, Inc., remained in the case; and plaintiffs stipulated that defendant did not cause or contribute to the crash itself. Defendant had manufactured and sold a special operations tactical transponder and emergency locator transmitter (ELT) for the 160th, which the Army installed on the aircraft. Upon impact, the air traffic control tower did not receive a distress signal from the ELT. However, the tower observed the aircraft spinning out as it came in for landing. The tower's repeated attempts to contact the aircraft went unanswered. A few minutes after the crash, plaintiff Jon Ternstrom extricated himself from the wreckage and called 911 from his cell phone. Around the same time, the tower declared an emergency and rang the crash phone. Emergency responders arrived to the crash site approximately 9-11 minutes after the crash.

  • Plaintiff's Contentions:

    Plaintiffs alleged the ELT was defectively designed and manufactured, resulting in a delay of first responders' arrival to the scene of the crash. As a result of the alleged delay, plaintiff Jon Ternstrom contended he could no longer fly on missions and was limited to flying as a maintenance pilot because he was afraid to fly without his cell phone. He feared that, if a crash occurred, nobody would be able to find the crash without a survivor calling 911.

    Plaintiff Maria Ternstrom alleged loss of consortium damages caused by her husband's emotional injuries due to his inability to fly missions. Plaintiffs further claimed that, because Mr. Ternstrom was unable to fly missions, he would not be promoted and would be forced to retire as a CW4.

  • Defendant's Contentions:

    Defendant Cubic Defense Applications, Inc., contended the ELT functioned as designed and the reason the tower did not receive a distress signal, as confirmed by the Army's investigation, was due to an improperly prepared coaxial cable connecting the ELT to the antenna. The coax cable was not provided or manufactured by defendant, and neither was the antenna.

    The Army installed the ELT, the coax cable and the antenna on its aircraft. Defendant also provided evidence that the Army performed functionality checks on every single ELT sold by defendant, prior to the Army accepting delivery of them approximately six years before the subject crash occurred.

    Defendant further contended that plaintiffs' loss of earnings and loss of consortium damages were identical to the damages plaintiffs attributed to the crash itself and the other parties plaintiffs had sued in various other venues. Defendant highlighted the fact that, aside from plaintiffs themselves, the only witnesses in plaintiffs' case were paid experts.

    There was no medical evidence of Mr. Ternstrom’s alleged psychological fear, no evidence that his fear was caused from the delay of first responders' arrival, no evidence that there was in fact a delay as opposed to normal response time, and no evidence to refute the Army's post-crash conclusion that the ELT was functioning. There was also no evidence or testimony from the Army itself as to the Mr. Ternstrom’s performance as an Army pilot or his promotability. Moreover, defendant pointed out that following his recovery from his crash-related injuries, Mr. Ternstrom returned to flying status and was still being deployed. He was also promoted from CW3 to CW4 in 2016.

Injuries and Other Damages

  • Physical Injuries claimed by Plaintiff:

    Plaintiff Jon Ternstrom conceded that his physical injuries were caused from the crash itself but claimed his injuries were exacerbated by the alleged delay in arrival of first responders. However, he admitted no medical provider had told him his injuries were, in fact, exacerbated.

  • Plaintiff Jon Ternstrom claimed he suffered from a nonspecific fear of flying without his cell phone caused by the lack of ELT signal and allegedly resulting delay of first responders' arrival to the crash site. His fear of flying without his cell phone allegedly kept him from flying missions, so he only flew as a maintenance pilot. As a result, he claimed he would not be promoted to Chief Warrant Officer 5, and would be forced to retire as a CW4.

    Plaintiff Maria Ternstrom claimed loss of consortium damages stemming from her husband's alleged emotional harm due to his not being able to fly missions.

Special Damages

  • Special Damages Claimed - Past Medical: 0
  • Special Damages Claimed - Future Medical: 0
  • Special Damages Claimed - Past Lost Earnings: 0
  • Special Damages Claimed - Future Lost Earnings: $3,212,931.52

Demands and Offers

  • Defendant Final Offer before Trial: Rule 68 Offer to the Ternstroms in August 2017 for $55,000.