Pilot’s $9 million damages claim against ex-boss hits court
A HELICOPTER pilot, left as a quadriplegic after a crash and who is fighting for more than $9 million in damages, may have less than a decade to live according to a medical expert.
Bruce Towers, 69, was flying for aviation company Hevilift in Papua New Guinea 14 years ago when the Bell 206L-3 Long Ranger helicopter he was flying was enveloped by clouds in the Southern Highlands and crashed.
Three passengers died in the crash, while Mr Towers, who was 55 at the time, suffered serious injury to his C5-C6 spinal cord and was left an incomplete quadriplegic.
Four years ago his lawyers successfully argued in the Cairns Supreme Court that Hevilift had breached its duty of care by not warning Mr Towers about high speed cloud formations in the region he was flying.
He then launched a lawsuit for damages against his former employer with the trial beginning in Cairns yesterday.
The court heard three sections of the claim were in dispute - Mr Towers' future economic loss, his life expectancy and some special damages.
His barrister, Gerard Mullins, said a medical expert due to give evidence had given Mr Towers a life expectancy of under 10 years, although other evidence suggested it could be more than 17 years.
He said before the crash the experienced pilot had intended to keep working in that industry, potentially past the age of 65, and had the "capacity to generate" around $1500 a week.
"That was his passion," he said. "We say the income calculated should be the income of a helicopter pilot."
The court heard Mr Towers had been living in a modified shed at the Victorian property where he shares with his wife, but the shed burnt down in December.
His claim included extensive changes to his residence including a lifting station, a new wheelchair, lowered kitchen equipment, railings, automatic and wide access doors and windows.
Hevilift's barrister, Timothy Matthews, said they would not be suggesting Mr Towers was a "cowboy" pilot, but queried a suggestion his earning potential would have increased due to extra training on different aircraft types.
"If you are going to suggest he was going to become a much more qualified pilot … I suggest that might be much more contentious," Justice Jim Henry said to Mr Mullins.
The court heard the trial will hear from medical experts and fellow pilots and is expected to run until Wednesday.