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When his helicopter went down, the family sued over his death. A judge says they can’t

Fresno paramedic Kyle Juarez, 37, was killed in a helicopter crash in Kern County in December 2015. A Superior Court judge on Monday, Aug. 14, 2015, dismissed a wrongful death lawsuit filed by Juarez’s widow and children, saying their legal remedy is through California’s workers’ compensation death benefits system.
Fresno paramedic Kyle Juarez, 37, was killed in a helicopter crash in Kern County in December 2015. A Superior Court judge on Monday, Aug. 14, 2015, dismissed a wrongful death lawsuit filed by Juarez’s widow and children, saying their legal remedy is through California’s workers’ compensation death benefits system. Special to The Bee

A Fresno County Superior Court judge has dismissed a wrongful death lawsuit filed by the family of a Fresno paramedic who was killed in a Skylife air ambulance helicopter crash in December 2015.

Judge Jeffrey Hamilton ruled this week that the legal remedy for the family of Kyle Juarez is through California’s workers’ compensation death benefits program.

Juarez’s widow, Brooke Juarez, and their children sued Rogers Helicopters and American Airborne, claiming they were negligent in the maintenance and operation of the Bell 407 aircraft that crashed in a field nine miles east of McFarland in Kern County.

The lawsuit, filed in Fresno County because Rogers Helicopters is based in Fresno, sought damages for funeral and medical bills and unspecified damages for Juarez’s family.

Kyle Juarez, 37, was a flight and ground paramedic and nine-year veteran of American Ambulance. He spent the last three years on the Skylife team.

In his ruling, Hamilton said American Airborne and Rogers Helicopters formed a general partnership to form ROAM, which does business as Skylife, and that American Ambulance was the sole owner of American Airborne. At the time of the crash, Juarez was working full time for Skylife.

Because Juarez’s death occurred during the course and scope of his employment, Hamilton ruled that his family’s legal remedy is through the state’s workers’ compensation system, which, by law, precludes them from suing the defendants.

Attorney Eric Amador, who represented American Airborne, said: “We are pleased that the court correctly analyzed the situation here and agreed with our position, which is that the SkyLife partnership, along with Rogers Helicopters and American Airborne, employed the decedent, Kyle Juarez, so that his family will recover not in a civil lawsuit, but through the benefits of the worker’s compensation system.”

Also killed in the Dec. 10 crash was pilot Thomas Hampl, 49, of Bend, Ore., an employee of Rogers Helicopters; critical care nurse Marco Lopez, 42, of Hanford, a three-year SkyLife veteran; and the patient, Kathryn Ann Brown, 40, of Springville, who was employed as a substitute school teacher.

The cause of the crash is being investigated by the National Transportation Safety Board. Hamilton’s ruling says the NTSB has not yet issue a report of its findings.

Pablo Lopez: 559-441-6434, @beecourts

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