Petition Denied: U.S. Supreme Court Will Not Consider Question of Federal Preemption for Aviation Product Liability

This Client Bulletin updates our October 28 Client Bulletin “The Question of Whether Federal Law Preempts State Law Standards of Care for All Aviation Safety Claims Continues on Appeal.”1

On Monday, November 28, the U.S. Supreme Court denied AVCO Corp.’s Petition for a Writ of Certiorari in Sikkelee v. Precision Airmotive Corp. As we reported earlier this year, the Third Circuit held in Sikkelee that aviation product liability claims are not governed by a federal standard of care and that state tort law standards of care apply. After the Third Circuit denied AVCO Corp.’s Motion for Rehearing en Banc, AVCO Corp. petitioned the Supreme Court to hear the case. AVCO Corp. argued that the Federal Aviation Act of 19582 preempted the entire field of aviation safety claims, including aviation product liability claims.3

The Washington Supreme Court will soon decide, in the Estate of Becker v. Forward Technologies Industries Inc., whether the plaintiffs’ aviation product liability claims were properly dismissed on the grounds of federal preemption.4 The Washington lower level courts, ruling before the Third Circuit’s Sikkelee decision, found that the Federal Aviation Act and its regulations, pervasively regulated the manufacture and assembly of the alleged defective aircraft product, establishing implied federal preemption. The plaintiffs’ complaint was dismissed because there was no identifiable federal standard of care applicable to their claims. Given the breadth of Sikkelee and the Supreme Court’s denial of Certiorari, it is likely the Washington Supreme Court will follow the Third Circuit’s decision in Sikkelee in deciding Becker.

1 The October 28 Client Bulletin can be accessed at http://www.condonlaw.com/2016/10/jane-sigda-2/.

2 Pub. L. No. 85-726, recodified at 49 U.S.C. § 40101 et seq. (2006).

3 AVCO Corp.’s argument relied, in part, on the Third Circuit’s earlier ruling in Abdullah v. American Airlines, Inc., 181 F.3d 363, 365 (3d Cir. 1999). In Abdullah, the Third Circuit found “implied federal preemption of the entire field of aviation safety,” but it did not directly address whether this included state standards of care in aviation product liabilityclaims.

4 No. 92972-6, 2016 WL 4127908 (Wash. Aug. 3, 2016).