Suit by Man Blown Off Bicycle by Helicopter’s Wake Goes Forward

Suit by Man Blown Off Bicycle by Helicopter’s Wake Goes Forward

Andrew Keshner

New York Law Journal

April 13, 2011

A bicyclist blown over by a gust of wind produced by a helicopter landing nearby may continue with his personal injury suit against the operator of the heliport, a state judge has ruled.

In denying the summary judgment motion of heliport operator Air Pegasus, Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Carol R. Edmead¬† said, “Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to plaintiff and drawing all reasonable inferences in his favor, the Court finds that there are triable issues of fact as to whether Air Pegasus breached its duty to maintain the Heliport in a safe condition, and whether that breach proximately caused plaintiff’s injuries.”

Michael Strasmich was riding south on a bike path along Manhattan’s West Street on March 27, 2007, when the gust of wind from a landing helicopter at the West 30th Street best bluetooth speakers below 100 Heliport blew him off his bike. He was hit by a cyclist passing on his left. Mr. Strasmich, 56, separated his shoulder in the collision and required surgery.

According to his attorney, David Rankin, the landing aircraft, which sat 12 passengers and two pilots, was being used to transport executives from the East Side to the West Side. He said the aircraft’s top blade was approximately 30 feet from Mr. Strasmich at the time of the incident.

An expert retained by the plaintiff, Elias Panides, a Columbia University professor, estimated in an affidavit that the wind from the landing could be up to 30 miles an hour.

Mr. Rankin, of Rankin & Taylor, maintained the heliport could have chosen to land the helicopter either on a landing pad located on a nearby pier or a barge on the Hudson River.

In September 2007, Mr. Strasmich sued Air Pegasus along with a number of entities to determine which one operated the helicopter that caused the wind blast. He sought $300,000 in damages. One company settled and one defaulted, said Mr. Rankin.

Air Pegasus argued that while it advised pilots about wind conditions, nearby air traffic and which landing pads to use, the heliport did not control landing helicopters or their pilots, according to the decision. Air Pegasus also noted that it was not involved in the creation of the heliport or the bike path, which had been built by the New York State Department of Transportation and the Hudson River Park Trust.

Justice Edmead said in her decision in Strasmich v. Liberty Helicopters,112243-2007, that Air Pegasus did not establish, as a matter of law, that it was not negligent in failing to assist the helicopter at the time of the accident.

She acknowledged that the heliport’s permits and procedure manuals do not explicitly require Air Pegasus to provide information to pilots about conditions. Nevertheless, she said, “Air Pegasus was admittedly responsible for advising the pilot about wind conditions, and to this extent, Air Pegasus played a part in the manner of the helicopter’s approach and landing.”

Mr. Strasmich complained that the heliport had not erected a “blast fence” to diminish the force of winds from landing helicopters. The heliport operator said it added plastic mesh to an existing chain-link fence between the launching pad and the roadway after the March 2007 accident and built an eight-foot-high concrete barrier in April 2009, but argued it had not been required to build protective barriers.

Justice Edmead found that the heliport’s permit did not prevent it from building such a barrier. Instead, it precluded the company from building activity without written consent from the Department of Transportation.

“While none of the sections of the Permit cited by plaintiff expressly create an obligation for Air Pegasus to construct such a [fence], the absence of such a provision does not end the inquiry,” the decision stated.

Air Pegasus argued it was “not unusual” to experience wind gusts over 30 miles per hour in New York City in March, but Justice Edmead called the claim “conclusory” in light of the plaintiff’s expert affidavit from Mr. Panides, who said, “Wind gusts exceeding 30 mph are possible since the flow is strongly turbulent and unsteady.”

The judge however, narrowed some of the claims against Air Pegasus, for example, she dismissed claims that the heliport permitted construction in a way allowing gusts to occur, noting that Air Pegasus was not involved in its building.

Mr. Rankin called the ruling “well reasoned and thorough.”

Air Pegasus, located on West 30th Street and 12th Avenue, was represented by James A. Gallagher of Gallagher & Faller in Garden City. Mr. Gallagher did not know whether his client would appeal the decision or opt to proceed to trial, which has been scheduled for July.

“We disagree with the judge, but respect and appreciate her opinion,” he said.

According to Justice Edmead, the operator of the helicopter, CSC Transport, is scheduled to file a summary judgment motion on April 19. Douglas Shearer, of McKeegan & Shearer, represented CSC Transport and did not return a call for comment.

@|Andrew Keshner