The next time you chose to fly, ask yourself—can I sue the manufacturer of this aircraft if it crashes as a result of a product defect? The answer is sometimes found in the General Aviation Revitalization Act (GARA) which was passed by Congress in 1994 in response to the enormous products liability costs that the tort system had imposed upon manufacturers of general aviation aircraft and their components. Congress believed that manufacturers of aircraft should not be exposed to the long tail of liability attached to their aircraft which are often used for many decades after they were first manufactured and sold. In short, GARA was intended to prohibit lawsuits based on claims for general aviation product liability that are brought more than 18 years after the date of delivery of the aircraft and/or component to the first purchaser. Courts have termed this statute as a classic statute of repose.

GARA was recently tested by a defendant in the Southern District of Florida. Twenty-three years after the first delivery of a Piper aircraft in 1977, the aircraft crashed in Canada and the plaintiffs claimed that a defect caused the crash. The defendant argued, based on the pleadings, that GARA entirely barred the action. On June 29, Magistrate Judge Edwin Torres issued 19 pages of findings recommending to District Judge Lawrence King that GARA applied to entirely bar the plaintiffs’ claim. In finding that GARA applied, Judge Torres found that even if the law of the crash site applied, here a province in Canada, GARA’s statute of repose would still bar the suit because of the Supremacy Clause of the United States Constitution.