Third Circuit Affirms That State Products Liability Law Can Apply to Plane Crashes

Richard Wolf

e959aadc1dcbb3b19c96a57e80fa6a54The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit’s recently held in Sikkelee v. Precision Airmotive Corp., 822 F.3d 680 (3d Cir. 2016) that aircraft manufacturers may be held liable for state products liability claims. In this case, the defendant averred that products liability claims fell within the “field of air safety” and were thus preempted by federal aviation law. Sikkelee, 822 F.3d at 685. The Third Circuit held that products liability claims under state law involving aircraft are not automatically preempted by federal law, although they may be preempted on an individual basis if they conflict with a specific federal statute or regulation. Id. at 709.

In Sikkelee, the widow of a pilot sued the manufacturer of an aircraft engine which she alleged was improperly designed, resulting in the plane’s crash and her husband’s death. Id. at 685-86. The United States Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania granted summary judgment in favor of the engine manufacturer on the question of defective design. Id. at 686. It held that the standard of care was a “type certificate,” a certification from the Federal Aviation Administration that the design of an aircraft or aircraft part meets the safety standards imposed by Federal Aviation Administration (“FAA”) regulations. Id. at 684, 686. Since the subject engine was granted a type certificate, the standard of care had been satisfied as a matter of law. Id. at 686. Critical to the District Court’s decision was its finding that it must apply some federal standard of care pursuant to Abdullah v. American Airlines, Inc., 181 F.3d 363 (3d Cir. 1999). Id. at 686. Continue reading “Third Circuit Affirms That State Products Liability Law Can Apply to Plane Crashes”