It is the responsibility of an aircraft manufacturer and the maker of each and every aircraft part in it to ensure that the airplane and all of the aircraft parts are made without any design or manufacturing defect. The manufacturer is responsible for aircraft manufacturing or design defects if the defect causes harm to others.
Our law firm has handled many product liability cases, including defective aircraft design cases, and we have found that in some situations a pilot can do everything right, operating the plane or helicopter to the highest safety standard and yet a part fails even in optimal conditions. The aircraft can be built strictly according to manufacturer specifications and maintained according to required guidelines, and still a devastating crash occurs because of aircraft design or manufacturing defects. Over our 40 years of experience in handling aviation accident litigation, we have found that if there are defects in the manufacturing or design of the aircraft or a part of it, it may be doomed — along with everyone aboard — no matter how experienced the pilot or how careful the aircraft owner.
An airplane or helicopter can be made without a single aircraft design defect, but one of its component parts might still have a manufacturing defect. For instance, a critical part might not be machined exactly to design specifications and be installed on the aircraft. If the part is not a perfect fit, as required by the plans and specifications, and it fails and causes a crash, the manufacturer is responsible even if it did everything it was required to do to try to make the part correctly. This concept is called “strict liability.”
Holding Manufacturers Responsible for Aircraft Design Defects
The following example is also one in which we also were responsible for an important clarification of law and improved aviation safety at the same time.
Griffith Park Bell Helicopter Crash: After a car crash in Los Angeles caused a child to suffer serious injuries, she was air-lifted to Children’s Hospital. Mid-flight, the tail rotor yoke (which attaches the tail to the aircraft) failed. The aircraft broke in two and crashed into Griffith Park below — killing the child, two rescue firefighters and the firefighter helicopter operator.
The widows of the three firefighters hired our firm. After we filed their aircraft design defect lawsuits, defense attorneys for the helicopter manufacturer, Bell Helicopter Textron, Inc., tried to get our cases dismissed based on a federal law (The General Aviation Revitalization Act of 1994 — GARA) that bars plaintiffs from suing general aviation manufacturers for issues with parts more than 18 years old. The trial judge dismissed our cases. We appealed. We won that appeal and proceeded to prepare the cases for trial.
In summary, the 2nd District Court of Appeals in Los Angeles conculded that the law did not apply to Bell in this case. The judge wrote that there was evidence Bell withheld information from the Federal Aviation Administration “about five military aircraft accidents Bell knew were caused by failure of identical tail rotor yokes,” which caused the Griffith Park accident.
We argued that Bell Textron was required to report all failures of parts used interchangeably in civil and military aircraft. When Bell allegedly failed to do so, they were no longer protected by the General Aviation Revitalization Act of 1994.
After winning the appeal, Paul Hedlund (an aviation attorney for the families) said, “They have been hiding behind this military exemption for as long as I can remember. It was time somebody called them on it.”
The aviation accident attorneys of Baum, Hedlund, Aristei & Goldman, P.C. alleged and proved during the subsequent trial, that the tail rotor yoke suffered a fatigue failure due to defective aircraft design. It was determined that a significant gust of wind could cause the tail rotor assembly to bend excessively, even when sitting on the tarmac, thus weakening the yoke by causing a fatigue crack in it. Although this problem could easily be fixed, the design of the aircraft lacked any method or system to detect the crack when it was very tiny, but nonetheless lethal to the next flight.
Contact us for a free initial consultation. If you or a loved one has been hurt in an aviation accident involving an aircraft design defect or manufacturing defect, speak with us. Contact us online or call 800-827-0087. Our lawyers handle both domestic and international product liability cases.
Other Notable Aviation Accidents Caused by an Aircraft Design Defect
With decades of experience handling airplane crashes and other aviation accidents, our firm has handled some of the largest air disasters that have resulted from an aircraft design defect or manufacturing defect:
American Airlines Flight 587 Crash: Flight 587 took off from JFK International Airport on November 12, 2001. Shortly after takeoff, the plane crashed into a neighborhood in Belle Harbor, New York, killing all aboard plus five people on the ground. The NTSB determined the probable cause of the crash was pilot error and an aircraft design defect. Due to excessive operation of the rudder flaps by the first officer, the vertical stabilizer separated and broke away from the plane.Our firm represented the families of nearly a dozen passengers killed in this crash.
China Eastern Airlines Flight 583: While in flight from Shanghai to Los Angeles, on April 6, 1993, inadvertent slat deployment caused the plane to violently pitch downward. Evidence suggested that the slats were deployed as a result of a crew member accidentally bumping the defectively designed handle. As a result, two people were killed and another 160 injured. After the accident, Douglas Aircraft Company said it would work with the FAA to redesign the MD-11 flap/slat actuating system to cure this aircraft design defect. However, for the passengers killed in Flight 583, that decision came too late. Our firm represented 42 passengers and one flight attendant injured in this incident and the family of one of the passengers killed.
For immediate assistance, or to schedule an initial consultation or case evaluation with an experienced aviation or plane crash lawyer, please contact Baum, Hedlund, Aristei & Goldman, P.C.
While an aircraft design defect or manufacturing defect can easily lead to a crash, improper maintenance of the aircraft can be just as deadly. Sometimes the plane or helicopter and all of its components are well-crafted and free of defect, but due to faulty maintenance the plane or parts fail to work as expected. A recent trend in outsourcing and hiring low-cost aircraft maintenance providers who may not necessarily be properly trained or experienced in servicing certain types of aircraft has made aircraft maintenance negligence a very real safety issue that has contributed to multiple accidents.
Not every crash should cause severe injury or death. No product liability investigation is complete until answers are found to this question: How did the people on board the aircraft actually suffer their injuries? In many cases the forces of the crash alone were not — or should not have been — sufficient to cause the injuries suffered. Thorough investigation may well lead to the conclusion that the crash itself was survivable, but design or manufacturing defects were the reason that tragedy was the outcome.
For instance, a thorough investigation of a helicopter case convinced the Baum Hedlund aviation lawyers that, although the aircraft crashed, the ensuing post-crash fire was caused by an aircraft design defect in the fuel system, and that the occupants did not die from the forces of the crash, but from the fire.