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U.S. Aviation Accidents Law Blog

Report highlights NTSB failure to conduct thorough general aviation accident investigations, P.1

We’ve previously written on this blog about the general process the National Transportation Safety Board uses and the relationship between NTSB aircraft accident investigations and aircraft accident litigation. As we noted, NTSB probable cause findings and recommendations are not admissible in court, but the agency’s factual reports generally are admissible. It is important, therefore, that these factual reports are accurate.

For pilots of small aircraft, accuracy in factual reporting is particularly important, as there is a tendency for NTSB investigators to blame accidents on pilot error when the causes are not sufficiently understood. According to some who’ve looked into the process, NTSB investigators routinely overlook defective parts and dangerous designs as causes of small airplane crashes. 

Recent cases chip away at federal preemption in aviation-related product liability cases, P.2

Last time, we mentioned that recent cases have begun chipping away at federal preemption in the context of aviation-related product liability cases. These cases dealt with both the Federal Aviation Act and the General Aviation Revitalization Act, both of which have previously been held to preempt or trump state law when there is a conflict.

In short, recent decisions have established that the Federal Aviation Act doesn’t prevent states from exceeding its minimum standards and that standards set by the General Aviation Revitalization Act do not apply to state law liability claims. Because both of these cases served to limit liability for manufacturers, the chipping away at their precedence over state law claims means that plaintiffs may have an easier time resolving aircraft manufacturer liability cases in their favor in the future. 

Recent cases chip away at federal preemption in aviation-related product liability cases, P.1

For those who have been harmed in an aircraft accident caused by defects parts, working with an experienced attorney who has a strong handle on the law is critical to pursuing a successful case. Building a solid product liability case in the context of aviation accidents is not necessarily an easy matter, though. One reason for this is that the applicable legal standards need to be highlighted and accurately applied.

Legal standards surrounding product liability or aircraft are not uniform at the state and federal level, and it isn’t necessarily the case that federal law trumps state law when there is a conflict. At least not anymore, after recent cases which are chipping away at federal preemption in this area.  

A brief look at some principles of strict product liability in California

Aircraft manufacturing is a process about which most consumers have very little knowledge. As consumers, we rely on manufacturers and their suppliers to produce quality products that function properly and do not put consumers at unnecessary risk of harm. When aircraft manufacturing goes wrong and a consumer is harmed as a result, it is important to work with an experienced attorney to build the strongest possible case for both liability and damages.

The law regarding product liability varies by state. In California, plaintiffs are able to seek recover for aircraft manufacturing defects under several legal theories: negligence; breach of warranty; and strict liability. The difference between strict liability and negligence is that, with negligence claims, a plaintiff must prove failure to exercise reasonable care, whereas strict liability only requires showing that the defendant was responsible for causing harm to the plaintiff. Breach of warranty claims can involve either express or implied warranties. Depending on the circumstances of the case, one of these legal theories usually makes more sense than the others, though multiple theories can apply.

Airplane manufacturer receives regulatory clearance after manufacturing flaw discovered

Earlier this month, the Federal Aviation Association permitted Boeing Co. to resume flights of its new 737 Max on a limited basis after a manufacturing defect was discovered. Boeing has been delayed in beginning deliveries of the jetliner to airlines after a problem was discovered with the new model’s engine. The FAA had certified the engine design back in March and no issues had been detected after 2,000 hours of testing, but it subsequently became clear that the engine used in the new jetliner model had potential quality issues.

The specific issue with the engine was that the nickel-based turbine discs from one of Boeing’s suppliers had a forging flaw that made them susceptible to cracking. Discs from a second supplier were apparently not impacted by the forging flaw, but the Federal Aviation Association applied the quality review to all engines from the new line. Now, deliveries may resume as long as the planes have a spare engine which doesn’t include the potential defect. 

NTSB investigators among critics of Clint Eastwood film, Sully

New York readers remember that, in 2009, a US Airways airplane made an emergency landing in the Hudson River with 155 passengers aboard. Remarkably, the accident resulted in no deaths, and only minor injuries for a small group of passengers. One of the reasons the landing was so successful is that the pilot was so skillful in executing the emergency landing.

Following the accident, the National Transportation Safety Board conducted a routine investigation in which it was determined that a flock of birds had gotten caught in both engines minutes after takeoff, causing them to lose power. 

NTSB aircraft accident investigations, their relationship to accident litigation, P.2

Last time, we began looking at some features of the process the National Transportation Safety Board uses when investigating aircraft accidents. As we noted, the specific manner in which aircraft accidents are investigated depends on the nature of the accident. Whatever avenue is taken for investigation, though, any findings made in the process do not determine legal liability and cannot be used as evidence in court.

This is an important point, since much of the information gathered in NTSB investigations is quite valuable in personal injury and wrongful death litigation. Is none of it admissible at trial, then? The important distinction to make is that while the NTSB’s probable cause findings and recommendations to prevent future accidents are not admissible, its factual reports generally are admissible. This means that plaintiffs may make use of these findings to support personal injury and wrongful death claims. 

A brief look at NTSB aircraft accident investigations, their relationship to accident litigation

Previously, we noted that those who suffer loss in small aircraft accidents should pay close attention to the investigative work that occurs after the accident. The National Transportation Safety Board is one of the primary agencies responsible for investigating aircraft accidents. When the NTSB investigates an accident, it looks to determine the probable cause(s) and to make safety recommendations to prevent similar accidents from occurring in the future.

Once the NTSB is notified of an aviation accident, the agency makes an initial assessment of the accident and determines which type of investigation is appropriate. There are four general types of investigation that the agency conducts. In cases involving non-injury general aviation accidents in which there are no apparent airworthiness issues, the operator self-reports the circumstances of the accident. If there are no fatalities, the NTSB may conduct a limited investigation, which involves delegating the investigation to the Federal Aviation Administration and performs an analysis on its findings. 

Small plane manufacturer facing numerous lawsuits over alleged design defect, P.2

In our last post, we began looking at the ongoing litigation against a Florida-based small aircraft manufacturer accused of defectively designing stabilator wings and causing numerous accidents as a result. As we noted, the manufacturer denies the allegations of defective design, and points to the federal government’s blaming the accidents on other factors in official reports as evidence that defective design is not the problem.

Attorneys involved the litigation say, however, that federal regulators aren’t independent enough from the aircraft manufacturing industry in the investigation of general aviation accidents to come to unbiased conclusions about the causes of accidents. Because manufacturers are too involved in the process, they say, there is always going to be a bias toward concluding that accidents are caused by pilot errors.

Small plane manufacturer facing numerous lawsuits over alleged design defect, P.1

We’ve previously written on this blog about small aircraft accidents, and the fact that a certain percentage of these accidents are caused by design defects. The types of defects that lead to small aircraft accidents vary, depending on the manufacturer. Some of these defects can really put consumers at risk.

Right now, Piper Aircraft, Inc., a manufacturer of small aircraft based out of Florida, is facing a number of lawsuits over just such a design defect. According to the plaintiffs bringing the lawsuits, hundreds of the manufacturer’s aircrafts have broken up in midflight, leading to injuries and fatalities. Piper has settled a number of lawsuits involving the allegations, but on the condition that the parties keep the settlement details confidential. 

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