The court found that Cessna was not exempt from suit and that the rolling provision of the 18-year statute applied when the new waste-gate elbow was installed. This assumes that Cessna was considered the manufacturer of the part, which was still disputed. One can only wonder if the result would be the same if the part was simply repaired and replaced as serviceable. Would this trigger the re-running of the statute?
Additionally, the plaintiffs argued that because Cessna owned the type certificate for the C-340, it was responsible for any parts made pursuant to the type certificate specifications. The plaintiffs argued that even if Cessna did not manufacture the waste-gate elbow, federal aviation regulations mandate that Cessna is the manufacturer because Cessna owned the Type Certificate that included the aircraft and the exhaust system.
They were trying to maintain that the owner of the type certificate is always considered the manufacturer of the part for the purpose of the rolling provision of GARA. The court did not buy this alternate basis for liability, though it has a logical ring to it. Who knows, maybe another court might buy it. Since such a conclusion is not difficult to come to, the whole statute of repose is seemingly useless.
In this case, the part manufacturer and the aircraft manufacturer were both kept in the lawsuit because of the alleged defective part. The threats to parts manufacturers alone are still a grave concern.
Rebuilt and used parts
Another issue arises when a re-built part or another serviceable used part is installed on an aircraft that is more than 18 years old. Does this trigger the running of the 18 years again? Can I start the 18-year statute running again if I re-build the carburetor on my 60-year-old 1946 C-140? Attorneys will argue that a rebuilt part is a new part, and therefore the 18-year rule should start again when installed on an aircraft otherwise exempt due to its age. We all know that rebuilt parts must be tested to the same standards as the new part standards. Some rebuilt items can also be zero timed (like engines) as if they were new. The statute of repose, on the other hand, should protect an original manufacturer.
AC 20-62d seems to support this contention which will be argued by plaintiffs’ lawyers and others to support the trigger of a new 18-year statute.
However, an early federal case (1996) held that the aircraft manufacturer should prevail under the GARA 18-year rule where a failed part was also more than 18 years old but had been rebuilt several times before the accident. The finding here was that once a new part is delivered and installed on a new aircraft, the time limit starts to run. One might also conclude that the theory seems to be that a part manufacturer should also be protected after original delivery because it no longer retains control of the part once delivered to the aircraft manufacturer. This appears to be a logical result.
Some relief in sight
News reports indicate that legislation is proceeding in the Congress to get some relief to general aviation parts manufacturers. Congress is working on legislation to provide what some call common sense protections against lawsuits. They say, “These lawsuits are driving up insurance costs and forcing some manufacturers to stop production on parts already certified by the FAA.” These are the same arguments that aircraft manufacturers made in order to get the 18-year statute of repose passed. Just what these common sense protections would be are not described in the news note.
It would seem that the simple solution would be to include parts manufacturers and maintenance people by an amendment to the present 18-year rule contained in to the statute of repose. Although parts manufacturers and maintenance people were not included in the original statute, there is no reason that they could not be included at this time and offer some relief in that way.
It might be that the Act and the 18-year statue of repose should be re-rewritten to clear up the confusing, ambiguous areas of concern that have arisen in the last 14 years since the law’s enactment. Courts continue to disagree in their interpretation of the GARA. It clearly needs to be expanded and made more inclusive if the intent is to protect manufacturers and others from frivolous lawsuits.
GARA: The good and the bad.
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