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How Late is Too Late? Statute of Repose Bars GARA Lawsuit

By Robyn Hagan Cain | Last updated on

How should the General Aviation Revitalization Act's statute of repose be interpreted in a case dealing with used faulty plane parts?

Strictly, according to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

On August 17, 2009, a Cessna Citation 560 plane was damaged when the nose landing gear collapsed during landing. The collapse allegedly was caused by a defect in the nose landing gear actuator, which is a motor used to extend and retract a plane's front wheels and shock absorbers during takeoff and landing.

The actuator in this case, Actuator 339, was manufactured in April 1990 and installed as a new, original part on a different plane, a Cessna 550 aircraft, on October 24, 1990. The Cessna 550 was delivered to its first purchaser on October 30, 1990, more than 18 years before the accident.

At some point after its delivery, the actuator was removed from the Cessna 550 and overhauled by a third party. On April 2, 2007, Actuator 339 was installed on the plane that suffered the accident, the Cessna 560. That plane had been delivered to its first purchaser on December 30, 1991, less than 18 years before the accident.

On May 13, 2010, U.S. Aviation Underwriters, (the Cessna 560's insurer) filed a subrogation claim against Nabtesco, (the actuator manufacturer), alleging that the defective actuator cause the accident.

The district court granted summary judgment to Nabtesco, holding that the delivery of the Cessna 550, the aircraft in which Actuator 339 was installed originally, triggered the start of the General Aviation Revitalization Act's 18-year statute of repose.

USAU appealed, arguing that the statute of repose ran not from the delivery date of the aircraft in which the actuator was installed originally, but rather the delivery date of the aircraft that experienced the accident.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed, taking a strict view of the GARA statute of repose, Metropolitan News-Enterprise reports.

The pertinent language from the statute of repose states: "No civil action for damages ... arising out of an accident involving a general aviation aircraft may be brought against the manufacturer of the aircraft ... if the accident occurred -- (1) after the applicable limitation period beginning on -- (A) the date of delivery of the aircraft to its first purchaser or lessee."

The Ninth Circuit panel concluded that the "date of the delivery of the aircraft" referred to the accident aircraft, including its constituent parts, finding that "date of delivery" is not necessarily a single date. Instead, the date of delivery can encompass different dates for the various component parts of the aircraft depending on when the parts were installed and whether those parts were new or used at the time of installation.

The court noted that the legislative history supported its interpretation.

The appellate court affirmed the district court, holding that the statute of repose began to run from the date that the actuator, along with the Cessna 550 in which it was installed originally, was delivered to its first purchaser.

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