Justia U.S. 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries
Articles Posted in Aviation
Sikkelee was killed when a Cessna aircraft he was piloting crashed after taking off from North Carolina's Transylvania County Airport. The aircraft had a Lycoming engine; Sikkelee's widow alleged the aircraft lost power due to a defect in the design of the engine and its carburetor. The FAA had issued Lycoming a type certificate for the engine, certifying that the design performs properly and satisfies federal regulations. Sikkelee’s widow brought strict liability and negligence claims against Lycoming, alleging design defect. The Third Circuit held that Sikkelee’s state-law claims are not barred based on the doctrine of field preemption. On remand, the district court concluded the claims were conflict-preempted and that Lycoming was entitled to summary judgment on Sikkelee’s strict liability and negligence claims based on Pennsylvania law. The court granted Lycoming summary judgment on Sikkelee’s claim that Lycoming violated 14 C.F.R. 21.3 by failing to notify the FAA of the alleged defect. The Third Circuit reversed in part, rejecting an argument that Sikkelee’s claims were conflict-preempted because FAA regulations made it impossible for Lycoming to unilaterally implement design changes Pennsylvania law allegedly would have required. Lycoming has not produced clear evidence that the FAA would not have allowed it to change the design set forth in the type certificate. Summary judgment on Sikkelee’s strict liability and negligence claims was inappropriate because there are genuine disputes of material fact concerning causation. Summary judgment was proper on the failure-to-notify-the-FAA claim. View "Sikkelee v. Precision Airmotive Corp" on Justia Law
The Textron Lycoming engine, manufactured in 1969, was installed on a Cessna aircraft in 1998. It was overhauled in 2004, with a carburetor in accordance with Lycoming’s type-certificated design. Sikkelee was piloting the aircraft when it crashed shortly after taking off. Sikkelee died. His estate sued, claiming that the aircraft lost power as a result of a malfunction or defect in the carburetor. The court held that Sikkelee’s claims, which were premised on state law standards of care, fell within the preempted “field of air safety.” An amended complaint incorporated federal standards of care by alleging violations of FAA regulations. Before trial, the court concluded that the federal standard of care was established in the type certificate. Reasoning that the FAA issues a type certificate based on its determination of compliance with pertinent regulations, it held that the FAA’s issuance of a type certificate for the engine meant that the federal standard of care had been satisfied as a matter of law. The court granted Lycoming partial summary judgment and certified an immediate appeal. The Third Circuit reversed, concluding that federal statutes and FAA regulations reflect that Congress did not intend to categorically preempt aircraft products liability claims. Subject to traditional principles of conflict preemption, including concerning specifications included in a type certificate, aircraft products liability cases may proceed using a state standard of care. View "Sikkelee v. Precision Airmotive Corp" on Justia Law
Philadelphia International Airport is the ninth busiest airport in the U.S. Since 1999, PHL has been among the 10 most delayed airports and has contributed to delays at airports nationwide because its runways are too short, too close together, and too few. After receiving the City’s proposal for expansion in 2003, the FAA prepared an Environmental Impact Statement. In 2008 the FAA published a three-volume, 900-page draft EIS. The EPA submitted comments, citing alleged data omissions in the FAA’s analysis. The FAA considered and responded to each of the EPA’s comments in the final EIS. Although disagreements remained, in 2010, the FAA published its Record of Decision, which approved the expansion and delineated reasons for approval, including a finding that the project was reasonably consistent with existing plans of public agencies for development of areas surrounding the airport, as required by the Airport and Airway Improvement Act (AAIA), 49 U.S.C. 47106(a)(1. Objectors alleged violations of the National Environmental Policy Act, 42 U.S.C. 4321 and the AAIA. The Third Circuit denied review, finding that the FAA decision was not arbitrary. View "Twp. of Tinicum v. U.S. Dep't of Transp." on Justia Law
The insurance company sought a declaratory judgment that a plane crash that killed five people did not trigger coverage under a fleet insurance policy issued to an aircraft maintenance and charter company. The policy identifies the company's clients (including Wyndham) as "named insureds" and as "insured owners," but Wyndham did not participate in its negotiation. Wyndham filed a counterclaim seeking coverage. The crash involved a plane rented by a Wyndham employee to attend a work-related meeting, but did not involve the charter company in any way. The court held that Wyndham was entitled to coverage. The Third Circuit reversed. New Jersey law allows reformation, on the basis of mutual mistake, against a party that did not participate in negotiation of a contract and the insurance company sufficiently pled mutual mistake. Although the contract appears to provide third parties with coverage when using aircraft without the charter company's involvement, both contracting parties believed that the language did not expand coverage to entities unaffiliated with the charter company, such as Wyndham. The premium went down with the addition of the language at issue because the intent was to limit coverage for to aircraft owned, used by, or at the direction of the charter company.