Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Monday, June 7, 2010


Page 1


C.A. Limits Impact of Federal Statute of Repose in Air Crash Case




A federal statute of repose that generally protects aircraft manufacturers from products liability suits when an allegedly defective aircraft or part was more than 18 years old at the time of a crash does not apply to a claim based on alleged errors in maintenance instructions, the Third District Court of Appeal ruled Friday.

The justices reinstated Alika Rogers’ suit against Bell Helicopter Textron Inc. Rogers claims that the 2005 crash of the Bell 47D1 helicopter she was piloting near the Rancho Murrieta Airport was caused by improper instructions in a maintenance manual.

Retired Sacramento Superior Court Judge Lloyd Phillips, sitting on assignment, granted nonsuit on the ground that the helicopter had been in operation since 1951, and the maintenance manual last revised in 1975, so the claim was barred by the General Aviation Revitalization Act of 1994.

18-Year Deadline

The act provides in part that a suit “arising out of an accident involving a general aviation aircraft” cannot “be brought against the manufacturer of the aircraft or the manufacturer of any new component, system, subassembly, or other part of the aircraft” more than 18 years after the aircraft is delivered to the original purchaser, lessee, or dealer, or after the allegedly defective part has been added to the aircraft.

 Justice Ronald Robie, writing for the Court of Appeal, said the nonsuit should have been denied because the maintenance manual was not a “part.”

Flight Manual

The justice distinguished Caldwell v. Engstrom Helicopter Corp. (9th Cir. 2000) 230 F.3d 1155, in which the Ninth Circuit held that a flight manual is part of an aircraft for GARA purposes because it “contains the instructions that are necessary to operate the aircraft and is not separate from it.”

A maintenance manual, Robie reasoned, differs from a flight manual because—at least as to aircraft operating before 1981—the Federal Aviation Administration does not require that a maintenance manual be delivered with the plane.

The justice elaborated:

“By selecting the words it did, Congress chose to limit the applicability of the Act to ‘the components, systems, subassemblies, and other parts of such aircraft.’...If, as Bell contends, Congress wanted the Act to encompass things like the maintenance manual here, it could have written the Act to reach all items related to the aircraft.  It did not.”

Robie cited three cases in other jurisdictions that have reached the same conclusion with regard to maintenance manuals.

The case is Rogers v. Bell Helicopter Textron, Inc., 10 S.O.S. 3043. 


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