Lawsuit Over Country Musician's Fatal Helicopter Crash Remains in Pa. Federal Court

U.S. District Judge Gene E. K. Pratter

A federal judge in Pennsylvania has ruled that the court has jurisdiction over a lawsuit against helicopter-manufacturer Sikorsky related to the fatal crash of country musician Troy Lee Gentry.

U.S. District Judge Gene Pratter of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania denied widow Angela Gentry's request to remand the case to state court.

On Sept. 8, 2017, Troy Lee Gentry, half of the popular country duo Montgomery Gentry, was killed in a helicopter crash at Flying W Airport in New Jersey, according to Pratter's opinion.

The crash was the result of a throttle cable jam, causing engine failure. "Although the pilot attempted a maneuver that could have allowed the helicopter to land safely, various mechanical issues undermined the emergency landing," Pratter said.

The subsequent lawsuit was filed in Pennsylvania state court but removed to federal court by the defendants. Angela Gentry challenged the removal, claiming the court lacked jurisdiction in the matter. She also sought attorney fees associated with the removal.

In analyzing the matter, the court first determined diversity of citizenship among the sued entities. According to Pratter, all were headquartered in Connecticut and incorporated in Delaware.

"Here, there is complete diversity between the plaintiff, Ms. Gentry, and the defendants who are actual parties in interest (rather than nominal parties). Ms. Gentry is a citizen of Tennessee and none of the real and substantial defendants are citizens of Tennessee," Pratter said. "Because (1) there is diversity between Ms. Gentry and the real and substantial defendants, and (2) the amount in controversy exceeds $75,000, the court has diversity subject matter jurisdiction."

Pratter then turned to whether the removal was proper. Angela Gentry had argued that because the defendants maintained business operations in Pennsylvania, they were able to be sued in state court.

"Just because a corporation maintains some limited operations in Pennsylvania, it does not follow that the company's principal place of business is also necessarily in Pennsylvania, even if the company is being sued for conduct arising from those Pennsylvania operations," Pratter said. "Likewise, just because an entity registers a fictitious name for use in Pennsylvania, the fictitious name does not become subject to suit independent of the underlying entity. Therefore, the court determines that there is diversity subject matter jurisdiction and removal was properly executed."

Sikorsky is represented by local counsel John C. McMeekin of Rawle & Henderson in Philadelphia. McMeekin did not respond to a request seeking comment.

Angela Gentry is represented by Arthur A. Wolk of The Wolk Law Firm in Philadelphia, who also did not respond to a request for comment.