Passengers might be shocked to learn that the airplane they are riding in could contain counterfeit parts, including knockoffs ranging from nuts and bolts all the way up the craft's most sophisticated electronic equipment. The problem is so serious that even the U.S. military has struggled to prevent the purchase and installation of counterfeit parts in military aircraft. The following article discusses issues surrounding counterfeit airplane parts and their impact on crash liability.
What is a Counterfeit Part?
When people speak about counterfeits they are normally referring to knockoffs; the fake Rolex watches and Prada bags sold by unscrupulous vendors looking to pass off their inferior goods as the real thing. Counterfeit airplane parts may also be look-alikes made from inferior quality materials, or could refer to repurposed parts from other planes sold as if they were new.
Identifying Counterfeit Airplane Parts
Counterfeit airplane parts may be nearly impossible to distinguish from non-counterfeit parts. Not surprisingly, the failure rates for counterfeit goods can be many times higher than the bona fide part for which they have been substituted. For example, semiconductors used in electronics parts are normally manufactured in a clean room environment because even tiny dust particles can negatively impact the reliability of the device, while a counterfeit semiconductor may be produced in less than sterile conditions. The resulting products may look almost identical, but the counterfeit has a much greater risk of failure.
Airlines have been hesitant to investigate whether the parts they inquire are counterfeit or not. When counterfeits are suspected or discovered, airline officials may choose not to undertake the expense and difficulty of replacing them. As a result, much of the information we have about counterfeit airplane parts is the result of investigations into counterfeits sold to the U.S. military.
Statutes of Repose
A statute of repose is a law that requires a product liability suit be brought before the expiration of the law's deadline. The General Aviation Revitalization Act (GARA) is the federal statute of repose relating to airplane crash liability arising from defective parts. GARA requires plaintiffs to file suits of this kind 18 years of the product's manufacture.
The GARA statute of repose preempts any state laws that provide a longer period of time to file a suit. GARA covers most accidents that occur in the United States, but courts have been split regarding whether it also covers accidents that occur in foreign jurisdictions. GARA's requirements also apply to foreign aircraft that have been certified by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA.)
Exceptions to the Statute of Repose
There are some exceptions to the 18 year limitation set by GARA's statute of repose. The statute does not apply if the manufacturer concealed a defect, withheld information, or made a knowing misrepresentation to the FAA regarding the product and the plane's airworthiness. This can be difficult to prove, since plaintiffs will need to show the manufacturer's knowledge as well as their concealment, withholding of information, or misrepresentation to the FAA of a material and relevant fact that had resulted in the eventual accident.
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Even the U.S. military, with all of its power and resources, has had a hard time uncovering the use of counterfeit airplane parts and determining their role in crash liability. A private citizen needs to grapple with these issues as well as significant limitations on their ability to recover, such as the GARA statute of repose. A professional's assistance can be helpful in uncovering the use of counterfeit airplane parts. Contact a local attorney to schedule a free case review to discuss your claim and learn more about how they can help.
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