Vreeland v. Ferrer, --- So.3d ---, No. 2D08-248, 2010 WL 21168 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. Jan. 6, 2010)

No liability for aircraft owner under federal law.

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 instrumentality who has expressly or impliedly consented to its operation by another is vicariously liable for injuries or damages caused by its negligent operation. Florida courts consider an airplane a dangerous instrumentality. Section 44112, though, provides that a lessor, owner, or secured party is liable for personal injury or death only when a civil aircraft, aircraft engine, or propeller is in the Actual possession or control of the lessor, owner, or secured party. In this case, it was factually undisputed that the airplane was not in the owner's possession or control at the time of the accident. Thus, one of the issues on appeal was whether Section 44112 preempted Florida's dangerous instrumentality law such that the grant of summary judgment in favor of the owner was proper. The appeals court noted that Congress, by enacting Section 44112 and its predecessor, did not expressly preempt state laws imposing vicarious liability on the owners or lessors of civil aircraft. After examination of the legislative history of Section 44112, though, the court determined that "the policy and goal underlying the federal statute is to shield the owner or lessor of a civil aircraft from liability for the negligence committed when the aircraft was not in the owner's or lessor's possession or control." Under these circumstances, the court concluded Section 44112 impliedly preempted Florida's dangerous instrumentality law because it created an obstacle to fulfilling both the policy and goal of Congress.

Case Law Alert - 2nd Qtr 2010