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From Products Liability Law Daily, May 15, 2013

Aircraft Manufacturer Published Engine Overhaul Manual in Its "Capacity as a Manufacturer"; But Manual Was Not a Replacement Part for GARA Repose Purposes

By Leah S. Poniatowski, J.D.

An aircraft manufacturer publishing an engine overhaul manual was acting in its "capacity as a manufacturer" under a statute of repose to bar negligence claims arising out of an airplane accident, the Sixth Circuit ruled (Crouch v. Honeywell International, Inc., May 14, 2013, McKeague, D.). Additionally, the manual was not a "replacement part" to trigger a new repose period, nor did the injured parties present specific evidence to invoke the fraud exception to the statute of repose.

Background. Larry Crouch and Teddy Lee Hudson were seriously injured when the airplane piloted by Crouch made a forced landing after the engine lost power during flight. The pilot, passenger, and their spouses filed claims against the parties allegedly involved in the manufacture and maintenance of the engine, including AVCO Corporation, the parent company of Lycoming Engines, which manufactured the engine in 1978. Their claims included allegations that the engine manufacturer negligently failed to warn the airplane’s owners and operator and failed to notify regulatory authorities that there were defects in the engine and its components.

After several motion rulings, the district court granted the manufacturer’s motion for reconsideration and applied the General Aviation Revitalization Act of 1994’s 18-year statute of repose to bar the injured parties’ claims against the manufacturer on the ground that it acted within its "capacity as a manufacturer" when it produced the overhaul manual for the engine as required by law more than 18 years before the incident in 2006. However, the district court later denied the injured parties’ motion for reconsideration of the ruling and their motion to amend their complaint against the manufacturer in order to include allegations of withholding information, which could have revived liability against the manufacturer under the fraud exception to GARA’s statute of repose.

Capacity as manufacturer. The district court’s determination that the manufacturer was acting in its "capacity as a manufacturer" for purposes of GARA was supported by persuasive rulings in other jurisdictions. The district court had reasoned that the manufacturer’s production of the manual was an essential element in the overall process of creating a product that satisfied federal regulations, which reflected the decisions made by several other courts. Additionally, the injured parties’ argument that the legislative history of GARA held differently was unsupported by case law.

New repose period. The district court’s rejection of the injured parties’ argument—that each revision to the maintenance manual was analogous to a replacement part to trigger a new 18-year period of repose—was based on relevant and persuasive case law. The district court had characterized the manual as a "required accessory," but was not a "part" under GARA, which was in accord with other jurisdictions.

In addition to reasoning that adopting the argument would permit plaintiffs to circumvent the statute of repose, the district court pointed out that the injured parties did not identify any part of the manual that was incorrect or had been negligently deleted. Thus, a new statute of repose would not apply because there was no defect revealed in the revised manuals that causally contributed to the engine failure.

Evidence of withheld information. The district court correctly refused to recognize the injured parties’ evidence that the manufacturer knowingly misrepresented or withheld required information from the Federal Aviation Administration to invoke the fraud exception to GARA’s statute of repose. First, the injured parties did not plead specific facts in their original complaint for the exception to apply. Although they filed a motion for reconsideration, which was intertwined with a motion for leave to amend, this also failed to meet the stringent standard. Additionally, a letter that they purported demonstrated that the manufacturer withheld information, along with an "incomplete" service instruction actually suggested that the manufacturer did not withhold material information. Further, they waited almost eight months before seeking leave to amend after coming upon this "newly discovered evidence." Consequently, the district court did not err when it denied the injured parties’ motion for reconsideration and leave to amend.

Therefore, the district court’s judgment was affirmed.

The case number is 12-5775.

Attorneys: William R. Garmer (Garmer & Prather, PLLC), Matthew C. Minner (Hare, Wynn, Newell and Newton, LLP) for Larry Crouch; Larry C. Deener (Landrum & SHouse LLP), for Honeywell International, Inc.

Companies: AVCO Corporation, Lycoming Engines, Inc.

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