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Personal Injury Lawyers - Ellsley Sobol
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Our law firm in the Daily Business Review . . .

Charter pilot wins $930,000 settlement
A charter pilot settled with a toy distributor and West Palm Beach-based hobby shop that sold him a model-helicopter repair kit that was improperly manufactured and injured him.

Julie Kay

2012-03-29 12:00:00 AM

Case: Thomas and Kathleen Robbins v. Compumobile Tech Store Inc. d/b/a Nitro Toyz Hobby Shop and Horizon Hobby Inc. d/b/a Horizon Hobby

Case no.: 50 2009CA003152

Description: Product liability

Filing Date: Jan. 26, 2009

Mediation Date: Dec. 15, 2011

Settlement Date: Feb. 17, 2012

Judge: Palm Beach Circuit Judge Jack Cox

Plaintiff attorney: Rick Ellsley, Ellsley Sobol, Plantation

Defense attorneys: Jeffrey W. Johnson, Johnson Law Group, Boca Raton, and Anna Torres, Powers McNalis Torres Teebagy Luongo, West Palm Beach

Settlement amount: $930,000

Details: Robbins, a Long Island charter pilot, repaired his radio-controlled model helicopter in his living room with a special First Aid Parts Set on April 1, 2008. He lifted the helicopter to eye level to check if the blades were properly aligned and turned on the power with the remote control. Almost instantly, the main rotor holder, which connects the blades to the base of the helicopter, split in two, causing the blades to break apart and fly in opposite directions. One of the blades struck Robbins in the face, permanently damaging his left eye and injuring his nose.

Robbins suffered a retinal detachment and underwent surgery. Vision in his left eye is very limited, but the Federal Aviation Administration has permitted him to continue flying, and he kept the air charter job at a company where he has worked for 20 years. His health insurance paid his medical bills, which totaled about $32,000.

Robbins filed suit against Horizon Hobby, the Illinois-based toy distributor, and Compumobile, the West Palm Beach-based hobby shop that sold Robbins the parts. Compumobile filed for bankruptcy protection in 2010.

Plaintiff's case: The main rotor holder is a plastic component about the same size as a paperclip. It was manufactured in Taiwan, packaged with other parts and sold as part of a First Aid Parts Set for the TREX 450 XLE model helicopter. The parts were imported from Taiwan by Horizon Hobby Inc., an Illinois-based RC toy distributor. In April 2007, Horizon Hobby sold the package to Compumobile, and Compumobile sold it to Robbins on March 29, 2008.

The plaintiff's polymer expert, University of Florida professor Christopher Batich, analyzed the main rotor holder under a scanning electron microscope and opined the main rotor hold failed because of a hidden air pocket. He concluded air pockets result from the Taiwanese manufacturer failing to properly conduct the injection molding procedure. Air pockets sometimes result from either not drying the polymer properly, which leads to moisture vaporization during processing, or overheating the mold. The air pocket deteriorates the structural integrity of the plastic and makes the part susceptible to fracture on its first use.

Defense case: Defense lawyers did not return calls for comment. In court filings, the defendants denied the part was defective. They blamed the accident on Robbins for not properly following the instruction manual when he reassembled the helicopter and for placing the helicopter too close to his face while testing the blades. Additionally, the defense challenged the extent of damages claimed by Robbins.

Johnson represented Compumobile, and Torres represented Horizon Hobby.

Outcome: The parties agreed to settle the case a month before trial. The amount paid by each defendant is confidential.

Comments: "I was worried about comparative negligence," Ellsley said. "The fact that Tom held the helicopter so close to his eyes without wearing any eye protection while at the same time giving it power made the case difficult. We were concerned about how the jury would view what Tom did."
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