The airplanes in the skies today are larger, faster, and more complex than any other planes in history. Every part on every plane must be at 100 percent efficiency for the aircraft to fly safely. If even one component is off, there is a very high potential for serious injury. But innovative and untested designs, along with mass production at huge facilities, often creates defective parts. As in many other areas, the law is very complex when it comes to these injuries.
At Napoli Law, many of our attorneys are also pilots. So, they have a unique perspective in these cases. They understand that critical components sometimes work well for thousands of miles. But they prematurely break without warning, and that causes serious injury.
Defective product matters are also inherently complex. An attorney must partner with engineers, designers, accident reconstructionists, and other professionals to build a compelling case for damages. In short, you need a lawyer with nearly unlimited resources and nearly limitless passion for your case. That means you need Napoli Law.
Why Do Manufacturers Sell Defective Products?
In a nutshell, many companies put profits before people. The notorious Ford Pinto case from the 1970s is a good example.
At the time, Ford faced intense competition from small and cheap foreign and domestic cars. In response, then-Chairman Lee Iacocca gave his subordinates some unusual instructions. He told them to design and build a car that weighed no more than 2,000 pounds and cost no more than $2,000. To conserve weight, the designers put the gas tank outside the rear axle. To save money, the gas tank lacked a protective lining.
The result was a series of low-speed, rear-impact collisions which turned into deadly fireball wrecks. But Ford refused to change the design. Its accountants calculated the cost of repairs to be higher than the cost of paying settlements.
That mentality continues. In 2018, Takata paid $650 million to settle claims related to defective airbags. The company omitted a key chemical drying agent in the airbag’s propellant. As a result, the airbags were prone to sudden explosion. Fifteen people died and hundreds were seriously injured. Desiccant, the required drying agent, is commonly found in new luggage and costs almost nothing.
These two incidents reflect the two legal theories involved in most New York defective product cases. These theories are:
- Design Defect: The Ford Pinto was defectively designed. The gas tank should never be outside the rear axle. Almost any impact punctures the tank, and the tiniest spark will cause a conflagration. Today, many companies still cut corners during the design process.
- Manufacturing Defect: The Takata airbags looked fine on the blueprints. But the missing chemical turned these life-saving devices into ticking time bombs. In the same way, manyhip implants use cheap metal components which either break easily or cause metal poisoning.
Many times, defective product cases turn into large class-action lawsuits. Ford sold thousands of defective Pintos and Takata sold millions of defective airbags. A regional or nationwide lawsuit is the best way for these victims to obtain justice and compensation.
Some Special Rules in GA Cases
This legal process is not as straightforward in General Aviation matters. GA describes all aviation with is non-commercial and non-military. According to the American Medical Association, smaller GA aircraft are eighty-two times more likely to be involved in a fatal crash than commercial or military aircraft.
Despite the higher risk, there are some additional legal obstacles. In 1994, lawmakers enacted the General Aviation Revitalization Act. GARA imposes an 18-year statute of repose in GA defective product cases.
In a statute of limitations, the clock begins ticking when the victims learn the full nature and extent of their injuries. But in a statute of repose, the clock begins ticking when the victim bought the defective product. Normally, statutes of repose are designed to block lawsuits and deny fair compensation to victims.
But GARA is a little different. Congress intended for this law to weed out frivolous lawsuits and not to derail meritorious ones. So, GARA has a number of exceptions. They include:
- Component Part: Assume the owner buys a plane in 2000 and upgrades the engine in 2010. If a defective engine causes a crash, GARA’s statute of repose may expire in 2028 (eighteen years after the subsequent upgrade) instead of 2018 (eighteen years after the initial purchase).
- Passenger Injury: This provision is the most common GARA exception. The statute of repose is inapplicable in passenger injury cases. Essentially, only the owner has privity of contract with the manufacturer, so the manufacturer is entitled to only limited immunity.
- Commercial Aircraft: According to GARA, airplanes larger than 20-passenger capacity or those that are “engaged in scheduled passenger-carrying operations” do not qualify under the statute. That definition arguably includes charter aircraft as well as planes with passengers who reimburse some costs.
- Written Warranty: If the manufacturer includes a certain warranty with a purchase or upgrade, the writing supersedes GARA.
- Misrepresentation: If the manufacturer gave false information to the FAA, the statute of repose does not apply. Victim/plaintiffs usually need a “smoking gun” or other direct evidence to invoke this exception.
- Non-Passenger Injury: Sometimes, planes crash and injure people on the ground. Once again, since there is no privity of contract, there is no immunity.
Some states have enacted GA statutes of repose that are more restrictive than GARA. If that is the case, the state law controls. Different rules also apply to military and commercial aircraft.
Substantial damages are often available in defective product-related airplane crashes. In addition to consequential damages for things like medical bills and emotional distress, juries often award substantial punitive damages. These damages are designed to punish the tortfeasor (negligent actor) and defer future wrongdoing. Money is the only language that many companies speak. So, that’s the only way they will receive such a message.
Airplane crash victims have a number of legal options. For a free consultation with an experienced aviation crash attorney in New York, contact Napoli Shkolnik PLLC. We do not charge upfront legal fees in negligence cases.