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 serves clients in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Tampa, Orlando, Jacksonville, Ft. Lauderdale and communities throughout Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, Ohio, Florida and New York.