The manufacturer of an airplane engine that allegedly failed midflight has been denied a retrial in a case that ended in a $2.7 million verdict for the widow of one of the passengers killed in the resulting fatal crash, a federal judge has ruled.
Two months after declining to vacate the jury’s verdict against Continental Motors, U.S. District Judge J. Curtis Joyner of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania again ruled against the engine manufacturer, this time in denying its request for a new trial or a modification of the verdict.
Continental manufactured the engine parts in the Cessna T210L that crashed and killed the pilot and two U.S. Forest Service surveyors aboard, according to Joyner’s opinion.
The lawsuit brought by Elizabeth Snider and the estate of her husband, surveyor Daniel Snider, alleges that Continental negligently manufactured a replacement cylinder put in the engine six years before the accident. Continental claimed the jury’s award couldn’t be justified because there was no way to prove that it manufactured the component that caused the accident.
Continental claimed in its newest bid to escape the $2.7 million verdict that the jury gave more weight to the testimony of Snider’s expert witnesses than to Continental’s.
“That of course, is precisely what a jury is expected to do,” Joyner wrote in his Tuesday opinion, “weigh the evidence and the credibility of the witnesses and make a determination as to the facts. That the jury performed its function in a manner which displeases Continental and reached a decision with which Continental disagrees is not a reason to disturb the verdict.”
Leigh Woodruff of Skinner Law Group in Woodland Hills, California, represents Continental and did not respond to a request for comment. Snider’s lawyer, Allison B. Williams of Steptoe & Johnson PLLC in Bridgeport, West Virginia, also didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Late last June, Joyner held that the facts of the case were strong enough to support the jury’s verdict, rejecting Continental’s claims that the jury’s award couldn’t be justified because there was no way to prove that it manufactured the component that caused the accident.
“In reviewing the trial record of this case under the lens of the preceding authority, we find that plaintiff produced sufficient documentary and testimonial evidence at trial that Continental manufactured a replacement part which was installed in the accident aircraft’s engine some six years prior to the June 2010 crash,” Joyner wrote in his June 29 opinion.
Because the record pointed to the cylinder being the cause of the accident, Joyner said Snider’s claims weren’t barred under the General Aviation Revitalization Act, as Continental argued. The GARA was enacted in 1994 to limit the liability for the declining longtail aviation industry.
The families of the other two passengers sued as well, and those cases were settled.
As for Snider’s case, “The jury was free to believe or disbelieve any or all of the expert witnesses who testified in this action and was free to accept or reject the theories of failure advanced by any party,” Joyner said. “In determining whether the evidence is sufficient to sustain liability, the court may not weigh the evidence, determine the credibility of witnesses, or substitute its version of the facts for the jury’s version. These principles are well-settled and we follow them now.”
Earlier in the case, Continental had roped in the U.S. government as a defendant. However, Joyner dismissed the federal government from the litigation.
The crash occurred while the aircraft was approaching William T. Piper Memorial Airport in Lock Haven. As the plane began to land, it experienced total engine failure and subsequently crashed.
The plane, operated by defendant Sterling Airways, was built in 1973 and its engine was overhauled in 2004.