The General Aviation Revitalization Act of 1994 (GARA”) provides that no civil action for damages for death or injury arising out of an accident involving a general aviation aircraft may be brought against the manufacturer of the aircraft or the manufacturer of any part of the aircraft, where such aircraft or part, was more than eighteen years old at the time of the accident[i].
Thus, GARA establishes an eighteen year statute of repose to protect general aviation manufacturers from long-term liability in those instances where a particular aircraft has been in operation for a considerable number of years[ii].
However, the eighteen-year limitation period does not apply if the plaintiff pleads and proves that the manufacturer knowingly misrepresented to the Federal Aviation Administration (“FAA”), or concealed or withheld from the FAA, required information that is material and relevant to the performance or the maintenance or operation of such aircraft or part, that is causally related to the harm which the claimant allegedly suffered[iii].
In Burroughs v. Precision Airmotive Corp., 78 Cal. App. 4th 681 (Cal. App. 6th Dist. 2000), the court held that if the General Aviation Revitalization Act applies to shield the original manufacturer of a defective product from product liability claims, such as the failure to warn, a successor manufacturer who has taken over the duties and obligations of the original manufacturer as to that product is also protected from liability for such claims.
Under certain circumstances, government contractors are immune from state tort liability for design defects in military equipment[iv]. The government-contractor defense, also called the military contractor defense, is a federal common-law defense[v]. Under the government contractor defense, federal law determines the question of whether a defect is one of manufacturing or design.
The government contractor defense is based upon the premise that, liability claims arising from government procurement contracts could create a significant conflict between state tort law and the federal interest in immunizing the federal government from liability for performing a discretionary function, an act for which the government may not be sued under the Federal Tort Claims Act[vi].
However, contractors, even government contractors, have no entitlement to blanket immunity from allegations of negligence[vii]. When a contractor prepares designs in any other setting, it is liable for any negligence, even if its customer approves its designs. No immunity for negligence arises merely because the federal government is the customer. The government contractor defense is available only where the contractor could not both comply with its contract and satisfy its state-prescribed duty of care.
Liability for design defects in military equipment cannot be imposed, pursuant to state law, when[viii]:
- the U.S. approved reasonably precise specifications;
- the equipment conformed to those specifications; and
- the supplier warned the U.S. about the dangers in the use of the equipment that were known to the supplier but not to the U.S.
Further, the courts have not traditionally applied the government contractor defense to manufacturing defects. It is because manufacturing defects are deviations from intended designs and therefore cannot be considered the product of an exercise of discretion[ix].
The courts recognize a government contractor defense based exclusively on the theory that the constitutional separation of powers compels the judiciary to defer to a military decision to use a weapon or weapons system designed by an independent contractor, despite its risks to servicemen[x].
Also, there are contributory negligence defenses, which include assumption of risk, misuse, and negligence that do not rise to the level of assumed risk or unforeseeable product misuse but are more than a mere failure to discover a product defect[xi].
[i] 49 USCS § 40101.
[ii] Burroughs v. Precision Airmotive Corp., 78 Cal. App. 4th 681 (Cal. App. 6th Dist. 2000).
[iii] Robinson v. Hartzell Propeller, Inc., 326 F. Supp. 2d 631 (E.D. Pa. 2004).
[iv] Tate v. Boeing Helicopters, 55 F.3d 1150 (6th Cir. Ky. 1995).
[v] Torrington Co. v. Stutzman, 46 S.W.3d 829 (Tex. 2000).
[vii] Shurr v. A.R. Siegler, 70 F. Supp. 2d 900 (E.D. Wis. 1999).
[viii] Boyle v. United Techs. Corp., 487 U.S. 500 (U.S. 1988).
[ix] Torrington Co. v. Stutzman, 46 S.W.3d 829 (Tex. 2000).
[x] Crossan v. Electron Tube Div., Div. of Litton Systems, Inc., 693 F. Supp. 528 ( E.D. Mich. 1986).
[xi] Mooney Aircraft Corp. v. Altman, 772 S.W.2d 540 (Tex. App. Dallas 1989).