Bell Helicopter Textron Is The Manufacturer Of A Helicopter That Crashed In Griffith Park. The crash was caused by the in-flight failure of the helicopter’s tail rotor yoke. The two survivors and the successors of four others who died in the crash sued Bell Helicopter and others, asserting products liability theories of strict liability, negligence, warranty and fraud. Bell sought summary judgment based on a federal statute of repose, which bars actions against manufacturers of general aviation aircraft if the part that allegedly caused the accident is more than 18 years old.
We conclude an exception to the statute of repose applies, precluding its application to this lawsuit. An action is excepted from the statute of repose if the claimant proves the manufacturer concealed or withheld from the Federal Aviation Administration “required information” material to the maintenance or operation of the aircraft or part that is causally related to the harm.
There is evidence Bell, within the period of repose, withheld information from the FAA about five military aircraft accidents Bell knew were caused by the failure of identical tail rotor yokes installed on those aircraft. We hold that FAA regulations required Bell to report those failures, and its withholding of that information falls squarely within the statutory exception to the time limitations on civil actions that would otherwise apply. We therefore reverse the judgment of the trial court and remand the cause for further proceedings.
FACTUAL, PROCEDURAL AND LEGAL BACKGROUND
Bell Helicopter Textron manufactured a helicopter that crashed on March 23, 1998, during a rescue airlift following an automobile accident. The accident victim and three paramedics–Michael Butler, Michael McComb and Eric Reiner–were killed, and pilot Steven Robinson and another paramedic were seriously injured. The crash was caused by the in-flight failure of the helicopter’s tail rotor yoke. Lawsuits were filed against Bell, Bell Technical Services, Inc. (BTSI, a Bell affiliate providing customer service for Bell) and Robert A. Gustafson,1 an employee of BTSI, by the injured crash victims and the successors of those who died (referred to collectively as Butler). The lawsuits filed by the surviving paramedic and by the successors of the accident victim were settled; the remaining lawsuits are the subject of this appeal. Contact California Helicopter Accident Attorneys.