Recent Developments Relating to GARA
By: Justin T. Green
- Plaintiffs have succeeded in establishing these exceptions to the General Aviation Revitalization Act, which imposes an 18-year stature of repose on general aviation aircraft and components.
- In Robinson v. Hartzell Propeller Inc., the court concluded there was sufficient evidence to create genuine issues of material fact with respect to whether Hartzell made material misrepresentations that were causally related to the harm suffered.
- In Butler v. Bell Helicopter Textron, Inc., the court noted that Bell had an affirmative duty under FAA regulations to report failures of component parts and Bell’s breach of that duty precluded GARA’s application.
- Hiser v. Bell Helicopter Textron, Inc. held that GARA’s statute of repose did not bar an action caused by a defective replacement part and that replacement of specific components did not constitute replacement of the entire system.
- In Carson v. Heli-Tech, Inc., courts rejected McDonnell Douglas Helicopter Company’s government contractor defense because it failed to offer proof of government review and approval of the materials at issue.
(reprinted from Aviation Law)
The General Aviation Revitalization Act of 1994 (GARA),1 is a tort reform measure that imposes an eighteen-year statute of repose for general aviation aircraft.2 The statute of repose does not bar actions where the defendant knowingly misrepresents or conceals required information that is material and relevant and causally related to the harm plaintiffs suffered. It also does not apply to new components or instructions promulgated after original manufacture within the eighteen-year period.
Over the past year, plaintiffs have succeeded in establishing these exceptions to GARA and, thereby, survived summary judgment motions.
In Robinson v. Hartzell Propeller Inc.,3 plaintiffs alleged that defendant Hartzell negligently designed a propeller. Significantly, plaintiffs also contended that Hartzell knew of the propeller’s defects and misrepresented the design problems to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which rendered GARA’s statute of repose inapplicable. Furthermore, plaintiffs argued that GARA’s 18-year period began only in 1984 when Hartzell issued an overhaul manual or 1989 when the propeller was overhauled.
In a comprehensive decision, the Robinson court concluded that plaintiffs had submitted sufficient evidence to create genuine issues of material fact with respect to whether Hartzell made material misrepresentations that were causally related to the harm suffered. The court, however, rejected the plaintiffs’ arguments that the 1984 overhaul manual was causally related to the accident and that the overhaul of the propeller restarted the GARA clock. Furthermore, the court ruled that plaintiffs’ experts could not testify on the subjective intent of the Hartzell employees in making representations at issue.
In Butler v. Bell Helicopter Textron, Inc.,4 the California Court of Appeals reversed the lower court’s entry of summary judgment in favor of defendant based on GARA. The court noted that Bell had an affirmative duty under FAA regulations to report failures of component parts and Bell’s breach of that duty precluded GARA’s application. The part at issue was the subject helicopter’s tail rotor yoke, and the court noted evidence that Bell, within GARA’s period of repose, withheld information from the FAA about military aircraft accidents it knew were caused by failures of the identical yoke. Significantly, the court held that Federal Aviation Regulation part 21.35 imposed a duty to report to the FAA the military failures in the tail rotor yoke.
In Hiser v. Bell Helicopter Textron, Inc.,6 the California Court of Appeals held that GARA’s statute of repose did not bar an action caused by a defective replacement part installed on the subject helicopter within the statute of repose period. While the court affirmed the trial court’s plaintiff’s verdict, it found that replacement of components of the fuel transfer system did not constitute replacement of the entire system. The court, however, found defendant’s GARA defense was a “red herring” and that substantive evidence supported plaintiff’s claim that a replacement part was causally related to the accident.
In Carson v. Heli-Tech, Inc.,7 the court denied McDonnell Douglas Helicopter Company’s (MDHC) motions for summary judgment based on GARA and the government contractor defense.8 The court found that the plaintiffs met their burden of establishing a jury issue on whether the 1996 addition of an aluminum reinforcement sleeve around the lateral control rod and rod end bearing of the OH-6A helicopter contributed to the subject crash. The court rejected MDHC’s government contractor defense because it had failed to offer proof of government review and approval of the materials at issue.
Hopefully we will be able to build on the successes of the plaintiffs in the cases discussed. GARA is not an insurmountable defense and it is in the public interest to hold manufacturers responsible for dangerous products. It is particularly in the public interest to bring to light any misrepresentations that a manufacturer made to the FAA. Unfortunately, plaintiffs’ lawyers are often the only ones willing or able to shed light on this corporate malfeasance.
Justin Green is a partner at Kreindler & Kreindler LLP and is the newly appointed editor of the ATLA Aviation Newsletter.
- Pub. L No. 103-298, 108 Stat. 1552 (reprinted in notes for 49 U.S.C. §40101).
- GARA § 2(a).
- 326 F.Supp.2d 631 (E.D. Pa. 2004).
- 109 Cal. App. 4th 1073, 135 Cal. Rptr. 2d 672 (App. Ct. 2003).
- Part 21.3 provides: [T]he holder of a Type Certificate . . . shall report any failure malfunction, or defect in any product, part, process, or article manufactured by it that it determines has resulted in any of the listed in paragraph 4 (c) of this section.”
- 111 Cal. App. 4th 640, 4 Cal. Rptr. 3d 249 (Ct. App., 4th Dist., 2003).
- 2003 WL 22469919 (M.D. Fla. Sept. 25, 2003).
- See Boyle v. United Technologies Corp., 487 U.S. 500 (1988).