Aircraft manufacturers liability and the consumer

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Aircraft Manufacturers Liability and the Consumer
by Stanley J. Levy, Attorney, New York. INTRODUCTION I. The relationship of Aircraft (A/C) and component part manufacturers to passengers aboard the aircraft and, indeed, to innocent bystanders, who are injured or killed is undergoing significant changes in the United States. The shifting attitude reflected both by the extension of strictliability and other legal theories which extend the probability of the manufacturers being found liable and by the size of jury verdicts, is consistent with the extension of what has come to be known as "consumerism". Simply stated, consumerism is an attitude, a growing public feeling or awareness that the rights and interests of the individual and of the public at large have not been afforded the samedegree of protection as that given to large corporations or to established business interests. I mention this aspect of the expanding social attitude of the United States only because it is relevant to fluid relationships between the consumer and international manufacturers. American social attitudes affect not only how the law in the United States has developed but also may give some insightsinto how the law affecting aircraft manufacturers may develop in the future. And even though there has been a shift toward greater internationalization of the aviation industry with A/C being manufactured in a score of countries and almost every country in the world using airplanes, America will remain one of the largest suppliers of aviation products and certainly one of the most significantmarkets. Accordingly, the development of American law will continue to affect international aviation. THE AMERICAN SYSTEM - THE COMPLAINTS AND HISTORY II The American legal system as it relates to handling A/C accidents litigation has been criticized by many who represent airlines, manufacturers and insurers. They have charged that - it is slow and protracted; - it is expensive; that it disregards ageold concepts of culpability and privity; - that lay juries can't decide the complex technical issues; - that it harrasses manufacturers and their employees for little or no social benefit; - that it results in "excessive" verdicts for victims of accidents; - that it imposes too high a price on a manufacturer; - that it fails to equitably apportion the loss among the responsible defendants. There isno doubt that our legal system (like virtually every social institution everywhere) can be improved. The charges made are frequently based on an inadequate familiarity and understanding of how our tort system operates, they stress the occasional aberration rather than the norm, they fail to recognize the responsibility for

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such criticism rests, atleast, in part upon the manufacturer, the airline and the insurer and its attorneys and, most importantly, they fail to consider the social benefits which result. So that my bias is clear let me state that I believe the American system has proven to be fully responsive to the main social objective of providing fair and reasonable redress for innocent victims of tragic accidents. The American systemis still predicated on the fault system - that is where one person's conduct causes an injury to another the person who causes the injury should be required to fully and fairly compensate the person injured. There are three theories for imposing liability in most states of the United States: negligence is the most important, and then there are Breach of Warranty and Strict liability in Tort. Andlet me point out that with the exception of those actions against airlines which are governed by the Warsaw Convention and the Montreal Agreement, a manufacturer of an airplane is subject to the same rules and standards as the manufacturer of any other product. There is no different body of law applicable to aviation accidents or to A/C manufacturers. No one should feel that they are being...