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Counterfeit Airplane Parts and Crash Liability

Passengers might find it shocking to learn that the airplane they are riding in could contain counterfeit parts. This could include knockoffs ranging from nuts and bolts all the way up to the aircraft's most sophisticated electronic equipment. The supply chain problem is so serious that even the U.S. military has struggled to prevent the purchase and installation of counterfeit parts in military aircraft.

Much like in car accidents involving distracted drivers, people may be quick to blame air travel accidents on negligent air traffic controllers and pilot errors. But hypothetically speaking, what about the faulty parts on board a Boeing 737? The following article discusses issues surrounding counterfeit airplane parts and their impact on crash liability.

What Is a Counterfeit Part?

When people speak about counterfeits, they are normally referring to knockoffs. They are referring to fake Rolex watches and Prada bags sold by unauthorized vendors. Other counterfeits could be more dangerous. They may put lives at risk, as is the case with airplane crashes. Counterfeit airplane parts may be look-alikes made from inferior quality materials. Or they could be repurposed parts from other planes sold as if they were new.

Identifying Counterfeit Airplane Parts

Counterfeit airplane parts may be nearly impossible to distinguish from non-counterfeit parts. Not surprisingly, the failure rates for counterfeit goods can be many times higher than the bona fide parts for which they have been substituted.

For example, semiconductors used in electronics parts are normally manufactured in a clean room environment. Even tiny dust particles can negatively impact the reliability of the device. A counterfeit semiconductor may be produced in less than sterile conditions. The resulting products may look almost identical, but the counterfeit has a much greater risk of failure. This is due to the lack of quality control of the fake parts manufacturer.

Airlines have been hesitant to investigate whether parts are counterfeit or not. When counterfeits are suspected or discovered, airline officials may choose not to undertake the expense and difficulty of replacing them. This is a major problem for the aviation industry. It has an interest in minimizing airplane accidents. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and the U.S. Department of Transportation conduct aerospace investigations in part to discover unapproved aircraft parts. They also want to prevent trending aviation accidents that could result from their use.

As a result, much of the information we have about counterfeit airplane parts results from criminal investigations into counterfeits sold to the U.S. military. The FBI or an inspector general may conduct these investigations. These investigations suggest that suspected unapproved parts (SUPs) not only pose major safety risks, but also expose airlines and commercial aircraft manufacturers to products liability claims arising from:

  • Plane crashes
  • Aircraft accidents
  • Other fatalities that undermine aviation safety

Statutes of Repose

statute of repose is a law that requires a product liability suit to be brought before the expiration of the law's deadline. However, unlike a statute of limitations, a statute of repose is concerned with specific event dates, such as the date of part manufacture. It is also not dependent on the date of a plaintiff's injury.

The General Aviation Revitalization Act (GARA) is the federal statute of repose relating to general aviation aircraft crash liability arising from defective parts. There is a limit to aircraft having a seating capacity of 20 passengers or less. GARA requires plaintiffs to file suits of this kind within 18 years of the product's manufacture.

The GARA statute of repose preempts any state laws that provide a longer period of time to file a suit. GARA covers most accidents that occur in the United States. But courts have been split regarding whether it also covers accidents that occur in foreign jurisdictions. GARA's requirements also apply to foreign aircraft that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has certified.

Exceptions to the Statute of Repose

There are some exceptions to the 18-year limitation set by GARA's statute of repose. The statute does not apply if the manufacturer:

  • Concealed a defect
  • Withheld information
  • Made a knowing misrepresentation to the FAA regarding the product and the plane's airworthiness

This can be difficult to prove. Plaintiffs will need to show the manufacturer's knowledge as well as their concealment, withholding of information, or misrepresentation to the FAA. This misrepresentation should be of a material and relevant fact that resulted in the eventual accident.

Questions About Counterfeit Airplanes and Crash Liability? See an Attorney

Even the U.S. military, with all of its power and resources, has had a hard time uncovering the use of counterfeit airplane parts. The military has also had a hard time determining the role of counterfeits in crash liability. A private citizen needs to deal with these issues. They also need to deal with significant limitations on their ability to recover, such as the GARA statute of repose.

A professional's assistance can help uncover the use of counterfeit airplane parts. If you or your loved ones have been affected by airplane accidents, you may have a claim for injuries and wrongful death claims against air carriers and manufacturers. Contact a personal injury attorney for help right away.

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