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Aviation and Complex Litigation

During the last three decades, the members of this practice group have, on a regular basis, represented virtually all aspects of the aviation industry including: aircraft manufacturers, suppliers of steel and forgings used in aircraft components, suppliers of aviation ground support equipment, operators, pilots and airport facilities. As set forth below, the matters have involved questions of liability for the major recall of aircraft components, where more than $100 million was at stake, to operators of business jets, to persons injured in hot air balloon rides.

We have also represented commercial operators and pilots in licensing and administration proceedings before the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board.
The members of the group are intimately familiar with various aspects of aviation activities and operations. The chair of the group has been a licensed and active instrument-rated pilot for over 30 years. Another member of the group holds his airline transport pilot certificate, along with a gold medallion flight instructor certificate, and was formerly a captain for a regional airline and first officer for Trans World Airlines on the MD-80 aircraft. Two other members have also trained as pilots, with one successfully building and operating his own home-built airplane. Members of the group are active in numerous trade and profession-related associations, including the Aviation Insurance Association and the Lawyer-Pilot's Bar Association.
Because of the broad range of activities that occur within the aviation industry, and the often catastrophic results when an aviation activity goes awry, each aviation liability claim often has very unique circumstances and issues. Due to the likelihood of serious damage to or destruction of the product involved, the members of our aviation litigation group are often engaged by the parties or their insurers shortly after an event occurs to assist in structuring the investigation and assembling the team of experts to conduct such testing, accident reconstruction, and failure analysis as may be necessary to determine the cause of the event.
The experience gained in years of handling complex aviation and product liability cases has easily translated to the litigation of other commercial disputes where technology and product operation is at issue. The use of techniques such as finite element analysis, scanning electron microscopy, focused ion beam analysis and computerized recreation and depiction of critical events are techniques that easily transfer to and provide a significant advantage in the handling of litigation of numerous disputes that arise, not just in aviation matters but in various commercial settings. It is a combination that brings together the access to and understanding of these technologies and expertise, with the experience of trying to verdict protracted complex legal matters, that enables us to provide effective advocacy to clients who come to us for legal representation.

Representative Cases and Clients

  • We represented a major regional specialty steel company that melted and forged ingots from which aircraft engine components were later made. An engine manufacturer to whom the steel was sold underwent an $80 million recall due to a series of faulty crankshafts and claimed that the crankshafts were defective because of inherent defects in the supplied steel. After a four-week trial in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas, the jury concluded that the evidence proffered by our experts, including extensive testing and sophisticated analysis, established that the steel was not defective in its inherent structure.
  • A major manufacturer of seats used in corporate and commercial jets was sued after the crash of a corporate jet resulted in a brain injury disabling a senior executive. It was alleged that this was due to seat failure from the impact sequence. Through reconstruction of seat components and analysis by biomechanical engineers, which established that the seat could not have failed as alleged by the plaintiff, the plaintiff's expert was discredited in a pre-trial hearing and the case settled favorably for the seat manufacturer.
  • A propeller manufacturer was sued when a propeller failed in flight in a single-engine aircraft requiring an attempted emergency landing in which the pilot and his wife died, and their eight-year-old daughter, who was substantially injured, watched her parents expire post-accident. The propeller manufacturer admitted that it had a defective decal that would lead to corrosion of propeller at the point where failure occurred, but through maintenance experts and metallurgists, we were able to show that the manufacturer had provided specific instructions for removal of the defective decal, which were not followed.
  • We represented a leading forger of commercial transportation parts that had forged crankshafts used in aircraft engines. After several fatal crashes, and other reported crankshaft failures, the aircraft manufacturer initiated a $100 million-plus recall and claimed that the crankshaft defects were the result of forging problems. After a two-month trial in Texas, the jury returned a verdict finding that the forging company did not create any defects in the crankshaft and that the crankshaft defects resulted from design problems.
  • A leading manufacturer of specialty polyurethane materials was sued regarding alleged defective equipment provided by the designer and manufacturer of high speed polyurethane mixing equipment used in association with robotic manufacturing process. After a two-month trial, a federal jury in Philadelphia awarded the polyurethane manufacturer in excess of $12 million against the supplier of the defective mixing equipment.
  • On behalf of a leading manufacturer of airblast equipment, we are acting as personal counsel in advising the manufacturer regarding more than 10,000 lawsuits around the country, interfacing with insurance counsel assigned to represent the client as an insured, and participation in the structuring of the national defense strategy for handling the claims while at the same time administering the coverage issues relating to claims among the various insurers.

The Aviation and Complex Litigation Practice Group of Marshall Dennehey Warner Coleman & Goggin serves clients in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Tampa, Orlando, Jacksonville, Ft. Lauderdale and communities throughout Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, Ohio, Florida and New York.

Mar 1, 2012
Illinois Court of Appeals adopted our brief and declined to recognize the tort in a case of first impression involving a claim for educational malpractice against aircraft flight schools and instructors. Our brief provided a detailed survey of how...
May 17, 2010
Attorney recently obtained several dismissals of plaintiffs' actions against an airline carrier. The attorney has successfully defended an array of cases against the airline from passengers alleging ethnic discrimination at boarding, theft of items...
Dec 10, 2008
Attorney obtained a complete dismissal of an aircraft maintenance and modifications company from a lawsuit arising out of a serious aircraft accident on Martha's Vineyard. The company was sued in Massachusetts state court, and, although it had...
Aug 6, 2008
Attorney obtained a partial summary judgment order that reduced defendant's potential exposure. Defendant was a cargo handling company that was sued by the insurer of an overseas pharmaceutical corporation for alleged damages to an international...
May 20, 2008
Attorneys successfully assisted the national counsel for a corporation, in defending a products liability lawsuit. The lawsuit arose out of a December, 2000 helicopter crash at the airport. The helicopter was completely destroyed in the crash and...
Law Alerts April 1, 2018
After remand from the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, Federal Judge Brann held that under the doctrine of “conflict pre-emption,” a manufacturer of aircraft engines could not be held liable under state law theories of 402A product..., Case Law Alerts, 2nd Quarter, April 2018 Case Law Alerts is prepared by Marshall Dennehey Warner Coleman & Goggin to provide information on recent developments of interest to our readers. This publication is not intended to provide legal advice...
Defense Digest Article June 1, 2016
By J. Bruce McKissock, Esq.* The Aviation & Complex Litigation Practice Group at Marshall Dennehey is led by three attorneys with a combined experience of over 70 years in litigating aviation-related matters. One member of the team is a..., Defense Digest, Vol 22, No. 2, June 2016 Defense Digest is prepared by Marshall Dennehey Warner Coleman & Goggin to provide information on recent legal developments of interest to our readers. This publication is not intended to provide legal...
Defense Digest Article June 1, 2016
By J. Bruce McKissock, Esq. and Nicolai A. Schurko, Esq.* Key Points: The United States Supreme Court has clarified that, for a court to exercise general personal jurisdiction over a corporate defendant, the defendant must be considered..., Defense Digest, Vol 22, No. 2, June 2016 Defense Digest is prepared by Marshall Dennehey Warner Coleman & Goggin to provide information on recent legal developments of interest to our readers. This publication is not intended to provide legal...
Law Alerts October 18, 2013
In multi-party aviation litigation, defendants frequently attempt removal to federal court, oftentimes relying upon diversity of citizenship as the basis for claiming federal subject matter jurisdiction. When removal is challenged and ultimately..., Case Law Alert, 4th Quarter 2013
Law Alerts October 1, 2011
Under Section 44112 of the Federal Aviation Act, an aircraft lessor, owner or secured party is insulated from liability for personal injury, death or property damage "on land or water," unless the aircraft is in the "actual possession or control of..., Case Law Alert - 4th Qtr 2011
Law Alerts April 1, 2010
A Florida appeals court affirmed the grant of summary judgment in favor of an aircraft owner in a wrongful death action, concluding that 49 U.S.C. § 44112 preempts Florida's dangerous instrumentality law. In Florida, the owner of a dangerous..., Case Law Alert - 2nd Qtr 2010
Defense Digest Article December 1, 2009
Pennsylvania -- Aviation , Key Points: General Aviation Revitalization Act of 1994 provides 18-year statute of repose which begins to run on date aircraft is delivered to first purchaser. Also contains "rolling..., Defense Digest, Vol. 15, No. 4, December 2009
September 1, 2015
J. Bruce McKissock, Chair of the Aviation and Complex Litigation Practice Group in the Philadelphia office of Marshall Dennehey Warner Coleman & Goggin, has been named the 2016 Personal Injury Litigation – Defendants "Lawyer of the Year" for Philadelphia by Best Lawyers in America©. Mr....


J. Bruce McKissock
Chair, Aviation and Complex Litigation Practice Group
(215) 575-4553


James P. Connors
Managing Attorney, Westchester, NY Office
(914) 977-7310

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