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Valparaiso Univ. Law School

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Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Government Contractors Immune from Suit in Afghan Copter Crash

Chinook Survivors of and heirs to those killed in the February 2007 crash of a Chinook helicopter in Afghanistan sued the defense contractors (Boeing, Honeywell, Goodrich, and AT Engine Controls), claiming that design and manufacture flaws caused the crash.  The District Court dismissed the claims against AT Engine Controls, a British corporation, based on lack of personal jurisdiction.  It also granted summary judgment to the U.S. based companies, finding that the federal government contractor defense preempted plaintiffs' claims.  

In this opinion filed last week, the Ninth Circuit affirmed the District Court's rulings.  According to the court, the government contractor defense "protects government contractors from tort liability that arises as a result of the contractor’s 'compli[ance] with the specifications of a federal government contract.'"  In Boyle v. United Technologies Corp., the U.S. Supreme Court set out a three-part test for establishing the defense: “(1) the United States approved reasonably precise specifications; (2) the equipment conformed to those specifications; and (3) the supplier warned the United States about the dangers in the use of the equipment that were known to the supplier but not to the United States.”   The Ninth Circuit provides a full analysis, especially of the first prong, and concludes that the test is satisfied in this case.


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