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Product liability in the aviation industry

Airline travel is a way of life for many California residents. Most flights are reasonably comfortable, with the major hassle being getting through security. Once on the plane, it usually is just a matter of settling down and waiting to get where they are going. People rarely think about safety issues. When accidents happen, however, they can have catastrophic results.

As Findlaw explains, while pilot error usually contributes to aviation accidents, mechanical problems also may contribute to a crash and the resulting deaths and injuries. Under the theory of strict liability, manufacturers can be held liable for such mechanical problems.

Strict liability

A strict liability claim in an aviation accident means that the focus shifts to the manufacturer and the safety of the product, regardless of whether or not any negligence on the part of the pilot or others contributed to the crash. The law regarding product liability varies from state to state, but most states use a risk-benefit analysis. A jury decides whether the riskiness of the design of a product and its foreseeable use outweighs its benefits. There are three kinds of strict product liability as follows:

  1. Manufacturing defect; i.e., did the manufacturer produce a defective product that was substandard compared to the other identical products in the line?
  2. Design defect; i.e., is the whole product line of a certain model dangerous and deficient?
  3. Failure to warn; i.e., did the manufacturer provide sufficient instructions for and warnings of the use of the product?

New court decisions

Aviation International News reports that two recent court decisions held that the Federal Aviation Administration is not the ultimate authority when it comes to aviation product liability. The U.S. Court of Appeals, Third Circuit, held that federal aviation safety law does not extend to aviation product liability cases brought under state law. In a separate case, the Supreme Court of the State of Washington similarly held that federal law does not preempt state laws in cases involving product liability in aviation cases.

Cases such as these set new precedents for victims of aviation accidents and/or their families seeking to establish manufacturer fault in product liability cases. Since juries now have more authority to decide whether the aircraft parts in question were safe, aviation product liability lawsuits have a better likelihood of going to trial and victims have a better chance of receiving just compensation.

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Redwood City, CA 94061

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