Recent Ruling Protects Aviation Crash Victims by Requiring State Law, Not Federal Law, to Govern Trials

 Posted on June 14, 2016 in Aviation Litigation

By Timothy Tomasik

After a long-awaited Third Circuit Court ruling in the case Sikkelee v. Precision Airmotive Corp., et al., aviation accident victims and their families now have more protection from the negligent acts of airline and aircraft manufacturers. Offered through a limitation on the Federal Aviation Act (FAA Act), the ruling holds that the Federal FAA Act does not purport governance over the design or manufacturing of aircrafts, nor does it supply a comprehensive standard of care. As such, aviation product liability lawsuits should be governed and ruled upon based on local state law standards and regulations, rather than federal laws, regulations, and standards of care.

Background on Sikkelee v. Precision Airmotive Corp

The lawsuit arose from a 2005 airplane accident in which a Cessna 172N Skyhawk crashed immediately after takeoff. The pilot suffered fatal injuries and burn injuries. His wife filed a wrongful death lawsuit with the Middle District of Pennsylvania. She alleged that product defect and negligence, including the failure to warn, were the direct causes of her husband’s death. Specifically, she claimed that the crash was caused by power loss or malfunction of the engine’s carburetor, which was not manufactured by Lycoming, the original manufacturer of the engine, but was allegedly compliant with the manufacturer’s specifications.

District Court Summary

The District Court granted summary judgment on all but one of the plaintiff’s complaints, holding that under applicable law Lycoming had established and complied with the FAA Act and the Federal Aviation Regulations (FARs) standard of care with the receipt of a type certificate on the carburetor. The Court also held that the negligence claims over the pilot’s injuries were preempted by the FAA Act, and that the FAR governance preempted the entire aviation safety field, releasing Lycoming from liability.

After hearing from the FAA and reviewing responses from both the plaintiff and Lycoming, the Third Circuit Court reversed and limited the scope of preemption in the airline industry. In effect, they drew a distinction between claims that are based upon in-air operations and those that are based upon product design defects that gives negligent manufacturers and airlines fewer methods through which they may claim immunity or lack of fault for the lives lost or people injured by their defective products.

Aviation Injury or Wrongful Death? Our Attorneys Can Help

Have you or someone you love suffered an injury or wrongful death caused by airline or aviation part manufacturer negligence? Protected by a slew of laws and possible defenses, these same entities will do everything they can to have your claims dismissed. At Tomasik Kotin Kasserman, we have the resources and knowledge needed to effectively address attempts to avoid accountability. We will fight for your rights and will do everything in our power to help you and your family receive the compensation you deserve. To schedule your free initial consultation with a skilled and experienced Chicago aviation litigation attorney, call our offices at 312-605-8800 today.

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