The FAA disposed of the case with a warning letter to the mechanic. This was significant, because there was no finding of a violation of any performance FAR and therefore, in any civil case, no finding of negligence as a matter of law. This would make a lawsuit by the injured party difficult, but not impossible, to prove. The fact that the case will be more difficult means that they could lose, and be out more money for legal fees. Remember, in this case it is the insurance company that is suing in the name of the insured in order to get their money back. Assessment of the threat of loss is always a consideration. They don't like to take chances and wind up paying out more in attorney fees than they can expect to recover by way of a judgment.
Since in this case there was no insurance for the mechanic there would probably be no lawsuit because of his possible use of bankruptcy proceedings to dispose of any judgment that might be lodged against him. Lawyers and insurance companies always like to find insurance because it secures their payment, assuming they win the case.
There is no specific FAR reference that says a mechanic must ensure that the aircraft conforms to any applicable airworthiness directives. FAR 43.11b requires, on the other hand, that when you find the aircraft is not airworthy during an annual or other inspection you must give the owner a list of the discrepancies, including all airworthiness directives that are not met. AC 39-7a suggests that when you inspect you must determine whether all airworthiness requirements are met and this includes airworthiness directives. It could be argued that a failure to discover and ensure all ADs are complied with is a violation of the FARs.
Return to service
A certified mechanic with the appropriate rating may approve an aircraft or part for return to service after a minor repair or alteration. However, only a mechanic with Inspection Authorization may approve an aircraft or part for return to service after a major alteration or repair. Part 43, Appendix A lists what is a major alteration or repair.
Rebuilt vs. overhauled
Whether an aircraft, engine, or other part is rebuilt or overhauled has always been a point of argument and discussion. FAA provides FAR 43.2b.
"No aircraft or aircraft part may be described as rebuilt unless the aircraft or aircraft part is disassembled, cleaned, inspected, repaired as necessary, reassembled, and all parts used in the rebuilt aircraft (or engine) conform to new limits."
FAR 43.9 contains the requirements for content, form, and disposition of maintenance, preventive maintenance, rebuilding, and alteration records. The record must include a description of the work performed, and the date it is completed. In addition, the mechanic approving the repair, must sign the entry and include his certificate number and type of certificate. Shop maintenance records are required to be retained for two years. AC 43-9b set out a detailed treatment of both Part 43 and Part 91 record requirements.
Part 91 prohibits the operation of any aircraft that has undergone maintenance, preventive maintenance, rebuilding, or alteration unless it has been approved for return to service by a person authorized under Part 43 to perform the service and the entry required by Part 43 has been made.
Many owners don't understand that it is their duty to keep their aircraft in an airworthy condition. They sometimes express the thought that they feel that their mechanic is responsible for the aircraft condition. You should set them straight whenever the subject comes up and direct them to read the relevant sections of Part 91.
There have been some FAA attempts to assess penalties against a mechanic or maintenance facility where a customer takes his aircraft from the shop without permission and has an accident. The FARs support the mechanic. The owner or operator cannot shift the blame for an accident to a shop or mechanic by simply stating that the aircraft was released prematurely. One of the key protections for the mechanic or any shop, in this area, is to avoid releasing logbooks (maintenance records) with any approval for return to service until all bills are paid and they are satisfied with the work. Logs (records) should always be kept in a locked safe in your office and only released to the owner when the transaction is complete.
Keep in mind that your records will be pawed over by the FAA and lawyers if any litigation should result from your work. Also, mere compliance with the FARs and complete maintenance records will not by themselves ensure insulation from liability in any accident case, but...it will definitely support your argument that you used a good standard of care in your work.
The power behind the certificate
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The answers to the professional mechanics test that O’Brien promoted in the last issue as a way to gain much-needed recognition for mechanics as a “professional” career field are provided. And...
I have been told that getting an FAA field approval is a lot like getting an elephant pregnant.