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Product Liability and Aviation Accidents

Pilot error usually plays some part in general aviation accidents. But mechanical problems also can occur despite aviation manufacturer warranties and disclaimers. A malfunction of the aircraft or its component parts may contribute to the aircraft accident or the severity of the injuries. In such cases, the aircraft or part manufacturer may share the legal blame with pilots for a plane crash.

The manufacturer of the aircraft may also have responsibility for any issues caused by the airplane crash, such as:

This may be proven under a legal theory of strict liability. A strict liability tort is a wrongful civil act that does not require a defendant's negligence or intent to harm. This means it is irrelevant whether or not the airplane accident or the cause of the crash was the result of a breach of a duty of care.

For more details, see FindLaw's sections on:

The General Aviation Revitalization Act of 1994 (GARA) protects manufacturers to some extent. However, it only limits liability for small aircraft and aircraft parts in accidents involving parts that are 18 years or older. But in many aviation tragedies, the cause of the accident is related to bigger airplanes run by commercial airlines. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) compiles audio from air traffic controllers. Often, these recordings involve very large airplanes. Therefore, strict liability law remains a powerful force that holds the aviation industry responsible for safety.

What Is Strict Liability?

In aviation law, this legal doctrine makes it easier to sue manufacturers in product defect cases. Strict liability works by switching the focus to the product's safety rather than the conduct of the person using the product. Manufacturers in a high-risk industry must adhere to heightened rules. They must design, manufacture, and warn in accordance with the foreseeable risks of product use.

strict liability claim against a manufacturer has a lower threshold of proof than cases against an airplane pilot or carrier. It does not require proof that negligence caused the accident. In almost all states, a victim can hold a manufacturer or seller "strictly liable" if it is shown that a defect in the product was a cause of the injuries.

Aviation product liability law varies from state to state. In several states, including California, a manufacturer may be strictly liable if:

Most states use a slightly different rule called a "risk-benefit analysis." In those states, a manufacturer may be held strictly liable if the product fails to perform as safely as an ordinary consumer would expect. Still, the consumer must have used the product in a foreseeable manner.

The risk-benefit analysis test asks if the risk associated with the product's design outweighs the design's benefits.

In an aviation strict liability claim, a jury will decide whether an alternative design exists.

The alternative design of the product must be mechanically feasible. Juries decide if the manufacturer could have implemented the alternative design at the time of sale. A manufacturer may escape liability if an alternative design is too "state of the art" to have been tested for viability.

Three Types of Strict Product Liability Claims

States vary in their interpretation of strict liability elements. Usually, to establish strict liability in a product liability lawsuit, the injured person (the plaintiff) must show that:

  • The product was defective when it left the manufacturer's or distributor's (the defendant's) control
  • The product was used in an intended or reasonably foreseeable manner
  • The product caused the plaintiff's injury

Strict liability can arise due to a defect in design or manufacture or a failure to warn.

Design Defect

design defect is when a whole product line or every product from a particular model is dangerously deficient. This is where courts apply the "unreasonably dangerous" test. They may also use a combination of consumer expectations and a risk-benefit test to determine if the design is defective.

Manufacturing Defect

manufacturing defect may exist if the manufacturer fails to produce the product correctly. If the finished product is substandard compared to identical products in that product line, there's a problem. The manufacturer may be liable for causing the anomaly and failing to catch the defect before the product was sold to a consumer. Manufacturing defects include the use of inferior materials or faulty assembly.

Failure To Warn

If manufacturers fail to provide adequate warnings or instructions for use, they can be held strictly liable for failure to warn. There are two types of warnings:

  • General instructions accompanying the product: The instructions are a part of the product. If the instructions are ambiguous or insufficient, the product cannot be used safely. Examples include operating limits and weight limits.
  • Specific warnings of a danger: These apply to dangers a manufacturer knew or should have known about at the time of sale or dangers discovered after sale. For instance, specific warnings might be given through cockpit placards or equipment labels.

Filing a Claim for an Aviation Accident? Contact an Attorney First

Aviation claims against airplane manufacturers involve a detailed understanding of aviation. One must understand FAA rules and regulations and the specific laws related to aviation. Also, these suits are often class actions, meaning they involve similar claims brought on behalf of many plaintiffs. If you or your family members suffered injury or the death of a loved one due to an aviation accident, you have legal rights. You'll benefit from the expertise of an experienced personal injury attorney. They can advise you on legal issues and injury claims in commercial airline product liability cases.

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