Ninth Circuit Affirms Dismissal of Helicopter Crash Case

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The Ninth Circuit recently decided a products case that raised issues of the government contractor defense, and a seldom litigated federal Rule of Civil Procedure. Getz v. Boeing Co., et al., No. 10-15284 (9th Cir. 8/2/11). The appeals court affirmed the district court's dismissal of one defendant for lack of personal jurisdiction and the trial court’s summary judgment in favor of the other defendants.

The suit arose from the crash of an Army-operated MH-47E Chinook helicopter in the Kabul Province of Afghanistan. The helicopter was transporting military personnel to Bagram Airbase when it encountered snow, rain, and ice. An initial Army investigation suggested that the aircraft’s engine control system unexpectedly shut down, causing the engine to fail. According to these investigators, the engine’s Digital Electronic Control Unit (DECU)—the onboard computer that controls fuel flow to the engine—malfunctioned due to some kind of electrical anomaly. A different investigation suggested that the aircraft’s engine flamed out because it ingested an inordinate amount of water and ice during the inclement weather. This other investigation further suggested, however, that the flameout might have been avoided if the MH-47E’s ignition system had been equipped with a continuous or automatic relight feature, which would have allowed the engine to restart automatically in the event of a water or ice-induced flameout.

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