"Between January 2003 and March 2013 … the Navy documented at least nine other mishaps involving waves washing over destroyer flight decks," the complaint reads. "This systemic disregard for the safety of its personnel and equipment places the culpability for the deaths of these two pilots, husbands and fathers squarely on the shoulders of the Navy and the designers and builders of these ships."
Theresa Jones, the widow of deceased helicopter pilot Lt. Cmdr. Landon Jones, is moving forward with a lawsuit against the Navy arguing that negligence by the Lawrence crew and Navy officials caused her husband's death.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Theresa Jones
"In addition to compensating the families for the loss of their husbands and fathers, the Navy should change the design of the flight deck," Lawler said in a Sept. 22 phone interview. "Thirteen HAZREPs over 20 years, and an additional nine mishap reports, without any substantial changes? At what point do they change the way they do business?"
A Navy spokesman declined to comment on the lawsuit.
Aircrews pay their respects at a memorial for Jones and Gibson held aboard the carrier Nimitz on Oct. 1, 2013, in 5th Fleet.
Photo Credit: MC3 Raul Moreno Jr./Navy
"I'd say they have a vanishingly small chance of getting any traction on this," said Eugene Fidell, a former Coast Guard Judge Advocate and noted military law expert who teaches at Yale, saying that the Supreme Court has established clear support for Feres over the years, despite some heart-rending cases that have risen to its level.
In 2011, the Supreme Court refused to take up the case of Air Force Staff Sgt. Dean Witt, who was left in a permanent vegetative state after a botched appendectomy at the hands of an Air Force doctor.
The widows' suit also names the Department of Veterans Affairs and Prudential Insurance on behalf of Jones, who claims the VA did not notify her that her deceased husband had canceled his Serviceman's Group Life Insurance prior to his accident, as is required by the policy. Prudential is the company that underwrites the VA's life insurance policies.
The suit seeks a $400,000 settlement from the VA and Prudential, the limits of the SGLI she would have received if the SGLI had been active.
Correction: A previous version of this article erroneously stated that Theresa Jones filed for personal bankruptcy. She did not. Navy Times regrets the error.
David B. Larter was the naval warfare reporter for Defense News.