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Attorneys at Philadelphia’s Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis last week won a defense verdict in a two-year battle between aircraft parts manufacturers who accused each other of degrading the performance of planes with their designs. Schnader Harrison attorneys succeeded in deflecting claims in excess of $75 million against their client, Hurel-Dubois UK Ltd., and also won $562,000 in a counterclaim against plaintiff Quiet Technology DC-8 Inc. J. Denny Shupe, co-chair of the aviation group at Schnader Harrison and a former U.S. Air Force pilot himself, was lead counsel for Hurel, now known as Hurel-Hispano UK. In 1993, Quiet contracted Hurel to supply a part to Quiet for its “hush kit,” an equipment package designed to retrofit certain older DC-8 aircrafts to bring them in compliance with Federal Aviation Administration noise restrictions, Shupe said. After the designs had been completed and the parts manufactured, Quiet alleged that Hurel’s thrust reverser design was responsible for decreased performance of planes that used the hush kits. Thrust reversers assist planes in stopping by reversing airflow through the engines, Shupe said. Quiet blamed Hurel for a drop-off in hush-kit sales. In the suit, Quiet accused Hurel of breach of contract, fraud in the inducement and negligent misrepresentation. Delivering technical information to the jury was the biggest hurdle of the case, Shupe said. “Presentation in cases like these is a consistent challenge,” Shupe said. He said he focused on helping the jury to understand the parts of planes and technical jargon. Jonathan Stern of Schnader Harrison’s Washington, D.C., office also worked on the case, and Hurel’s local counsel in Florida was John D. Hoffman of Hoffman & Hoffman in Miami. Quiet’s counsel was Carl H. Hoffman of Hoffman & Hertzig in Miami. Dealing with attorneys named “Hoffman” on both sides of the case created a challenge of its own, Shupe said. “It’s amazing nothing was ever sent to the wrong side,” Shupe laughed. Carl Hoffman told the jury that there was a demand for hush kits because it is cheaper, around $3 million, to install a hush kit to bring planes in compliance than to put new engines on a plane, which would cost $10 million or more. To completely replace an airplane would cost even more, he said. Two versions of the Quiet hush kits were approved by the FAA and met the agency’s noise-reduction requirements, which DC-8 aircraft needed to meet by Jan. 1, 2000. But when testing on the kits began in 1997 and 1998, it was discovered that they caused the DC-8 planes to draw more fuel than anticipated. Normal “performance degradation” is expected to be around 5 percent to 6 percent, Shupe said. During tests the Quiet hush kits showed a performance degradation of 20 percent. But at that point, the hardware needed for the kits was already produced under the contract and Hurel was locked into the existing design, Shupe said. The Quiet-Hurel contract ended in 1999, he said. Shupe said the performance degradation problem wasn’t one of decreased safety but of simple economics. “Because the planes drew more fuel, it cost more to run them, and consequently, people didn’t want to buy the kits,” he said. But the dispute centered on whether the decrease in aircraft performance was due to Quiet’s or Hurel’s design, he said. Shupe said he used a two-part presentation strategy to explain the case to jury members. “First, I wanted them to know that the plaintiffs had a great [financial] incentive to win, and that they should factor that into the credibility of the witnesses,” he said. “Hurel didn’t have that incentive.” Second, he said, he wanted the jury to understand the “serious defects” Hurel consultants found in Quiet’s designs and that those were the cause of the poor fuel economy in planes, rather than the thrust reversers designed by Hurel. Quiet filed the case in August 2000 in Florida state court. Hurel removed the case to federal court several months later. Hurel filed a counterclaim against Quiet for breach of contract, breach of implied contract and unjust enrichment. The trial, before U.S. District Judge Paul Huck of the Southern District of Florida, began March 25 and lasted three weeks. The eight-person jury had to return a unanimous decision, but less than two days into deliberation, returned and said it could not do so. Shupe said the parties stipulated that a 5-to-3 verdict would be acceptable, and the verdict came back 7-to-1 in favor of Hurel. Shupe, who did not talk to the jury afterward, said he doesn’t know what motivated the lone holdout. THE CASE Frank Lynch, an aerodynamicist with decades of experience in installing engines on planes and a former employee of Douglass Aircraft, testified for Quiet. Lynch, Shupe said, was of the opinion that Hurel’s thrust reversers caused the increased fuel consumption. Hurel’s expert witness, Joel Frank, presented a five-month study that showed the excess fuel consumption of the DC-8 planes was the fault of Quiet’s “ejectors,” components that Quiet placed on either side of the engines like earmuffs to cut down on noise, Shupe said. Shupe said Frank, an expert in computational fluid dynamics, was persuasive to the jury. Quiet has indicated it will file posttrial motions, Shupe said. In addition to Hurel’s $562,000 counterclaim damages, Shupe said the prejudgment interest will total more than $150,000. Offers before trial were “really not a possibility,” Shupe said, as the parties were “too far apart in their numbers.” He declined to give figures.

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