What is a "Statute of Repose" as it relates to aviation lawsuits?
UPDATED: April 20, 2011
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There are specific rules to be followed when suing or being sued in the context of aviation litigation. A "Statute of Repose" (SOR) can limit the time a lawsuit may be filed, with regard to how long an airplane or airplane part has been in service. SORs are different from a statute of limitations, which are also time limitations on bringing a lawsuit. An SOR often eliminates the most important evidence of negligence or airplane defects, which can be critical to victory in an aviation lawsuit.
State Laws and the General Aviation Revitalization Act
Signed into law in 1995, the federal General Aviation Revitalization Act (GARA) set an 18-year SOR. This means that planes and plane parts that are older than 18 years old cannot be the basis for blame in an accident. But even with the 18-year federal rule, the aviation SOR time period can sometimes still vary, depending on the state where the accident occurred. Many states have their own SORs, though most have no separate rules that would affect the aviation industry's federal SOR, since that would (and does) greatly complicate the application of the law to aviation accident cases.
GARAs SOR has replaced almost all state laws when it comes to liability for defective plane manufacturing. The only real exceptions are 1) when the state SOR makes the time period less than 18 years - in other words, adding protection to airplane manufacturers - and 2) when it can be shown that the airplane manufacturer concealed or misled its customers about any defects.
Statute of Repose and Aircraft Manuals, Service, Etc.
The SOR not only affects the liability of the airplane and its parts, but even the maintenance manuals and service bulletins. Several courts have recently held that updates to maintenance manuals or procedures of an aircraft have their own 18-year clock. This can mean that even if a part is more than 18 years old, if the maintenance manual is less than 18 years old (with faulty instructions) this can still be the basis for a lawsuit. In effect, these rulings have made maintenance instructions an airplane "part."
It is very important to speak with an attorney who specializes in all the aspects of SOR in the state where the injury occurred or the defect was created.