Santa Barbara News Press

Attorney copes with injuries from January plane crash

Before Jan. 8, 2006, Bill Hansult had never even broken a bone.

“The worst I’d ever had was a sinus infection,” said Mr. Hansult, a 51-year-old attorney well known to government agencies in Santa Barbara County for the lawsuits he’s filed against them on behalf of the Libertarian Party.

But his clean bill of health was forever altered on that fateful day when the small plane in which he was a passenger crashed upside down in the snow near Mammoth Lakes, killing the two other passengers on board.

Bill Hansult (courtesy)
Bill Hansult (courtesy)

The list of his resulting medical problems is stomach-turning: A gash to the forehead that required a blood transfusion and 30 stitches and caused a concussion. A shattered upper left arm. A back broken in three places. A broken right elbow — hinged back together by a lug-bolt. Worst of all, he may lose his left arm.

The first surgery on the shattered left arm — which now contains more metal than bone — failed, and he is hoping cutting-edge medical technology can save it.

He is awaiting surgery to implant a prosthetic shoulder with a balljoint made of concrete. The balljoint is covered with antibiotics that slowly release and are supposed to kill the infection that is eating the bone.

Mr. Hansult doesn’t know when he’ll undergo surgery, but he does know that time is running out. He says he can’t rest his arm on the kitchen counter without experiencing a wave of head-splitting pain.

“If you move the arm the wrong way, the (metal) screws rub on your socket, and let me tell you, you want to just jump out of your skin,” he said from his home in Grover Beach. “The balljoint isn’t getting proper blood flow. It’s dying and literally collapsing.”

Complicating matters is the fact that Mr. Hansult doesn’t have health insurance. He dropped it years ago due to his good health. But he may recoup his costs. Mr. Hansult has retained attorneys and may file a lawsuit.

Attorney Don Ernst of Ernst and Mattison in San Luis Obispo said he is looking into either pilot or mechanical error in the crash, which is still under investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board.

“We have not reached any conclusion at this point, except to say what happened to Bill is a tragedy,” said Mr. Ernst. “Our system is one based on fault, and we are going to actively pursue finding that fault.”

The plane, which had a mechanical failure 10 minutes after takeoff then crashed, was piloted by a friend, 59-year-old Joseph Terrell “Terre” Owens of Arroyo Grande, who was killed. Also killed was Carol Maki, 51, of San Luis Obispo.

As his lawyers look into his options, Mr. Hansult is focused on recovery rather than legal work.

He represented the Libertarian Party of Santa Barbara County in a successful suit against the Isla Vista Recreation and Park District that ended with a settlement in December 2004. His fees came to $42,000.

About a year later, he filed another suit against the same district on behalf of the party. Again, the district settled, for $8,000.

In a case that fell short of victory, he represented two local Parent Teacher Association members who charged that the Santa Barbara school board was discussing public business in secret. The judge dismissed 22 of the plaintiffs’ 23 claims in June 2005.

The crash hasn’t stopped his efforts. Last month, Mr. Hansult sent a letter to the Santa Barbara school board threatening a suit, on behalf of the Libertarians, alleging the board violated the Brown Act — the state’s open meetings law — by holding an illegal secret meeting. The board settled for $5,000 without admitting wrongdoing.

“I’ll be looking forward to delving into those Brown Act issues when I’m better,” he said.