$100M Settlement Showing Massive Burn Injuries After Helicopter Crash

Mike Ogborn, Esq., and Murray Ogborn, Esq., Ogborn Mihm, LLP, Denver, CO

FRISCO, CO - A flight nurse suffered severe burns on more than 90 percent of his body after the Flight for Life helicopter he was riding in lost control, crashed into an RV, and burst into flames. The pilot was killed and a second flight nurse was seriously injured.

Surveillance footage captures what happened from take-off to crash.

Surveillance footage shows the helicopter take off and yaw several times to the left. A witness reported that the helicopter reached an altitude of about 100 feet before it started to freefall 25 seconds into the flight. A second surveillance camera captures the violent impact as the helicopter smashes down on to the RV and erupts into a giant inferno in less than a second. A minute-and-a-half after impact, the Plaintiff is seen rolling out of the fire as first responders fight to extinguish the flames.

The National Transportation Safety Board determined the crash was caused by a preventable hydraulics issue that resulted from a preflight maintenance check in which hydraulic pressure to the tail rotor was switched off. Investigators also found that the enormous fire that caused most of the Plaintiff’s damages would have been prevented had the helicopter been equipped with a fire-resistant fuel system.

With a strong liability case, Mike Ogborn, Esq., and Murray Ogborn, Esq. needed the Defense to understand the intense level of damages their client suffered from the crash, as well as the life-changing loss of mobility the former extreme outdoorsman would suffer for the rest of his life. They tasked High Impact with building a Digital Injury Summary that would achieve the following visual objectives.

  • Educate mediators on how 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th-degree burns affect the skin and result in severe contracture scar formations, which impair the ability to move.
  • Compare the victim’s full-body condition before the injury, after the injury, after undergoing skin graft procedures, and his current condition.
  • Establish liability and cause-of-injury by showing the surveillance footage of the crash.
  • Summarize the victim’s additional injuries, which included bilateral orbital compartment syndrome, pulmonary edema with pleural effusions, abdominal compartment syndrome, kidney failure, and deep vein thrombosis (DVT) near the left femur.
  • Demonstrate the severely complex and numerous procedures the Plaintiff would need to undergo.
  • Show the traumatic photography of the surgical procedures he experienced and what he looks like today.
  • Chart the copious number of treatments the Plaintiff would need throughout his two years of ongoing recovery.

The following visual presentation helped the Ogborns convey the wide-ranging totality of pain, suffering, impairment, and disfigurement their client experienced, which convinced the Defense to settle for $100M.

Murray Ogborn, Esq., Ogborn Mihm, LLP, Denver, CO
It's an amount our client's family was very deserving of. It allows them to cover all future medical bills and allows them to live comfortably for the rest of their lives. Their future care will be very expensive — and extensive.
Murray Ogborn, Esq., Ogborn Mihm, LLP, Denver, CO

UNDERSTANDING 1ST, 2ND, 3RD AND 4TH-DEGREE BURNS

The first section of the DIS features an animation that walks viewers through 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th-degree burns while illustrating the painful effects each of these burns can have on different layers of tissue.

Tissue Burns 101

After 1st degree burns, the skin appears red and usually feels hot and painful. After 2nd degree burns the skin appears swollen and moist as blisters begin to form. 3rd and 4th-degree burns - such as what was suffered in this case - result in deep tissue damage all the way down into the subcutaneous fat.

CONVEYING THE VICTIM’S SKIN CONTRACTIONS

Once we had established the parameters for each type of burn, we introduced viewers to the physical skin contractions these burns would cause for the Plaintiff, which would ultimately result in a lifetime of painful immobility for the formerly active mountaineer.

Skin Contractions

Mobility is a powerful factor when conveying the pain and suffering a victim has experienced. Anchoring this painful immobility with powerful visuals helped the Defense understand the true human impact this helicopter crash would have on this young man’s life.

COMPARING THE VICTIM’S CONDITIONS THROUGHOUT INJURY

To understand the totality of the Plaintiff’s pain and suffering, we needed to convey the four primary chapters of his experience: before the crash, directly after the crash, post-surgery, and the victim’s current condition.

Comparing Conditions

The DIS enabled the user to walk viewers through each condition, as well as compare two conditions at the same time. The user could also spin each example in a 360 display that showed damages from all sides, providing complete context for the victim’s experience.

SURVEILLANCE VIDEO ESTABLISHES WHAT HAPPENED

We also equipped the DIS with surveillance footage depicting the final moments before the helicopter smashes into the RV and the entire scene is engulfed in flames.

Establishing What Happened

At 0:41, a nurse is seen leaping from the wreckage on fire. Another passenger escapes through the pilot’s hatch at 1:13. And finally, the Plaintiff is seen rolling from the inferno at 1:35 as first responders extinguish the flames.

ILLUSTRATIONS SUMMARIZE SPECIFIC INJURIES

While the victim suffered massive amounts of burns on 90 percent of his body, he also suffered several other severe injuries as well. This section anchored each of those injuries with a powerful illustration that would help the audience understand the true magnitude of suffering, beyond the extensive burn damage.

Illustrated Injury Summary

The patient suffered bilateral Orbital Compartment Syndrome, which would later require having tendons cut on the outer sides of each eye in order to release swelling. Blood and fluids also accumulated in the patient’s lungs and abdomen, resulting in a pulmonary edema, pleural effusions, and Abdominal Compartment Syndrome.

SURGERY ANIMATION 1: ESCHAROTOMIES, FASCIOTOMIES, AND LAPAROTOMY

After establishing the full magnitude of damages, it was time to demonstrate the many surgeries the Plaintiff would undergo over many months of painful recovery.

Escharotomies, Fasciotomies, and Laparotomy

The first surgeries included escharotomies of the full-thickness burns, fasciotomies to release tissue pressure, and a laparotomy to gain access to the abdominal cavity and drain fluids.

SURGERY ANIMATION 2: EARLY EYELID RELEASE

The next surgery animation demonstrates what surgeons needed to do to treat the patient’s bilateral Orbital Compartment Syndrome.

Early Eyelid Release

Scissors were used to cut the canthal tendon on the outside of each of the patient’s eyes, which would help relieve the swollen area from damaging the victim’s eyes.

SURGERY ANIMATION 3: BRONCHOSCOPY

Next, a bronchoscopy was performed to clear swollen, bloody material and fluids from the patient’s airways.

Bronchoscopy

An endotracheal tube was inserted into the patient’s mouth and down his airway. A bronchoscope was used to clear the airways of bloody, purulent secretions.

SURGERY ANIMATION 4: DEBRIDEMENT WITH GRAFT PLACEMENTS

Having suffered massive amounts of burns across 90 percent of his body, the patient would have to undergo an extremely extensive amount of debridement with skin grafts placed over much of his damaged skin. These animations demonstrated what that experience involved.

Debridement with Placement of PriMatrix Grafts

An electrocautery was used to burn off dead skin across the patient’s abdomen, chest, and right upper arm. PriMatrix Grafts were then meshed and placed across the debrided areas with staples.

SURGERY ANIMATION 5: DEBRIDEMENT, GRAFTS, AND TRACHEOTOMY

The next day, more debridement of unwanted tissue needed to be removed from the victim’s upper back and throat. A tube was also inserted into the patient’s trachea to assist with breathing.

Debridement, Placement of Grafts, and Tracheotomy

The electrocautery was again used to remove the necrotic skin, which was replaced with more PriMatrix grafts. An incision was made in the patient’s trachea, where a wire was inserted and a dilator was used to open the incision for the Tracheostomy tube.

SURGERY ANIMATION 6: DEBRIDEMENT OF RIGHT HAND

The victim’s hand also suffered painful damage in the form of severe burns and open wounds. A couple weeks after the previous debridement surgeries, dead skin was again debrided from the patient’s hand, and skin flaps were cut to help close open wounds.

Debridement of Right Hand

Reinforcing the repetition of these debridement procedures helped the defense see and understand every chapter of the Plaintiff’s experience in unforgettable detail.

SURGERY ANIMATION 7: TRUNK GRAFTING

A month after the catastrophic crash, the victim would return to have his torso and arms debrided and replaced with new skin grafts.

Trunk Grafting

An electrocautery tool was again used to clear the unwanted skin, and skin grafts were created to cover massive amounts of the patient’s body.

SURGERY ANIMATION 8: THORACOTOMY

Four months later, the Plaintiff’s chest was filled with so much blood and unwanted fluids, he would require a thoracotomy to have the area suctioned out.

Thoracotomy

The patient’s chest was opened up with a scalpel and a suction was used to clear unwanted material. An irrigator was then used to clean up the open wound, and a new chest tube was placed before gauze patched the incision.

SURGERY ANIMATION 9: FINGERTIP AMPUTATIONS

The victim’s hands would suffer unrecognizable amounts of tissue contractions that would disfigure them so severely, the bony tips of his fingers became exposed.

Fingertip Amputations

Surgeons would need to cut open the tips of each bone exposure and clip off the bone using a rongeur. One finger would require sutures to close the incision before dressings were applied to each fingertip. A similar procedure was performed on the patient’s fourth finger on his left hand.

SURGERY ANIMATION 10: LASER RESURFACING

More than a year after the fatal crash that would change the Plaintiff’s life forever, he is still undergoing laser resurfacing treatments to reduce the intensity of hypertrophic and pruritic burn scars.

Laser Resurfacing

A Pulsed Dye Laser (PDL) is applied across the patient’s back, face, and upper anterior shoulders in an attempt to reduce the irreversible damage done to his entire body.

SURGERY ANIMATION 11: COCHLEAR IMPLANT

The Plaintiff would later suffer extreme damage to the hearing in his left ear, and he would need a cochlear implant. We anchored that chapter with this animation showing what the surgery entailed.

Cochlear Implant

After shaving the patient’s head, a scalpel was used to cut open an incision behind his ear. A periosteal pocket was created using a drill before the Cochlear Implant was sutured into the patient’s head.

PHOTOGRAPHY DOCUMENTS SURGERIES AND CURRENT CONDITION

In addition to creating illustrations and animations for the DIS, we also equipped the presentation with photographs documenting what the patient looked like before the tragedy, throughout surgery, and his condition today. Out of respect for the victim, we did not include this section in this case study.

INTERACTIVE CALENDAR CHARTS UPTICK IN TREATMENTS

Finally, after establishing liability, damages, and a lifetime of painful recovery - we charted the intense uptick in treatments the Plaintiff needed (and still needs to this day) starting immediately after the incident.

Interactive Treatment Calendar

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