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Family of girl, 4, who died in 'homebuilt' airplane crash on Oregon Coast sues for $35 million

The family of a 4-year-old girl who died when the homebuilt airplane she was riding in crash-landed in a parking lot along the Oregon coast has filed a $35 million lawsuit against the company that sold the kit used to make the plane, Van's Aircraft. The suit contends that homebuilt airplanes pose a danger to the general public because they don't have to pass vigorous safety standards. A blockage of RTV sealant cut off fuel to the engine, the suit says. ( More...

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Pileits 16
I just see a greedy lawyer here trying to line his pockets at other people's expense.
Chris Griffith 14
Lawyers, one the root causes of a decay in our society along with added costs for us, the public. Politicians are mostly Lawyers which is why we have such a corrupt morally blind nation.
hugnaba53 4
Lawyer must be trying to retire on this one. The family may never see that much, even if they win. The court could throw out a lot of the 35mil as frivolous, and one of the probable reasons for suing for that much is for the media hype. Another reason for this is that Van's is a smaller company than say, Boeing and therefore, may not have the legal resources of a larger company, and could be an easier target. Someone's trying to prove a point and/or get rich doing it. Being a pilot, I would be devastated, had my daughter perished in a crash like this, but I would also have been involved in the choice of aircraft my daughter flies in and would be wary of homebuilts enough to ask lots of questions about it's construction and maintenance. That may not have prevented the crash or a child's death, in this case, but I would know that the final responsibility as to the safe operation of any aircraft and it's airworthy condition is the pilot in command, and not the company who produced the "kit". If FAA inspections are required for this type of aircraft the issues found by the NTSB should have been brought forth before the first flight. With That, I agree, Lawyers are one of the major root causes of society's decay. Especially those who are blindly ignorant, (or choose to be) about the facts regarding the case (any case). An AOPA past president was quoted as saying "I can defend stupidity to a point", in regards to a media announcer misrepresenting an incident with a C-150 flying into the DC area, and being detained by military. Please forgive my rambling.
You hit the nail right on the head with that statement.
dodger4 2
I agree. Personal litigation is the worst in the USA than any of the other civilized countries in the world.

Personally, I don't see an aircraft crash as the logical result of a blocked fuel line. Why didn't he simply land in a clear space without power...the way millions of pilots are taught in their ab-initio training?
Joseph Sede 2
doug staab 3
Tim Shaffer 12
The NTSB accident report puts this accident entirely on the pilot and improper maintenance.

The pilot, who was also the builder of the experimental kit airplane, departed for a cross-country flight from his home airport. The passenger reported that, following a normal departure, the airplane continued the takeoff climb through some cloud wisps and ascended above a lower cloud cover with an overcast layer above. Suddenly, the engine experienced a total loss of power. The pilot maneuvered the airplane toward the closest airport, but, when he realized that the airplane would not be able to glide to the airport, he attempted to make an off-airport landing. The airplane stalled and then collided with terrain in an open area of a paper mill. Ground scar analysis and wreckage fragmentation revealed that the airplane descended in a steep, near-vertical, nose-down, left-wing-down attitude before it impacted terrain. The pilot installed a fuel flow transducer about 2 to 3 weeks before the accident and used heavy applications of room temperature vulcanization (RTV) silicone to seal the fuel lines. A friend of the pilot, who was also a mechanic, reported that he had observed the pilot about a year earlier using heavy applications of RTV silicone to seal parts during a condition inspection and that he had mentioned to the pilot that this was an improper practice. A bead of RTV silicone was found in the fuel line, and it is likely that it blocked the inlet of the transducer and starved the engine of fuel. Additionally, subsequent to the loss of engine power, the pilot failed to maintain sufficient airspeed while maneuvering to locate a suitable off-airport landing site and flew the airplane beyond its critical angle-of-attack, which resulted in a stall and loss of airplane control.

The National Transportation Safety Board determines the probable cause(s) of this accident as follows:

A total loss of engine power due to fuel starvation because of a blocked fuel line that resulted from the pilot’s improper maintenance practices and the pilot’s subsequent failure to maintain adequate airspeed while attempting a forced landing, which led to the airplane exceeding its critical angle-of-attack and experiencing an aerodynamic stall.
joel wiley 2
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This clearly points to the negligence of VAN's in the eyes (and wallet) of plaintiff's attorney. The attorney probably feels that this premise needs be tested in the courts, with a resultant respectable number of billable hours.
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It's unfortunate that when many people hear the words "experimental" or "homebuilt," the image that comes to mind is of a flying jalopy cobbled together from baling wire, duct tape, and scrap sheetmetal. It's far more unfortunate that there are builders out there who live up to that image - especially since they're the ones who end up in news stories like this.

The assertion that Van's is somehow negligent is insane to me. RV kits are provided with very detailed instructions, including a large amount of documentation on construction methods, best practices, etc. I know for a fact that there's a section in my construction manual about the AN fittings in the fuel system. Furthermore, Van's provides support to builders throughout the process. Not sure about something? Call or email, and you'll get an answer from one of their engineers.

In short, Van's goes far out of their way to educate builders and help them build safe, airworthy aircraft. But it's incumbent on the builder to avail himself of this education.
linbb 2
Liked the part where the lawyer says the reason that they are sold is they are cheaper than a certified one. The price quoted in the paper was 45K which I think will buy you most of the basic sheet metal ready to assemble with no prefab work or anything else done. The engine alone will cost that much but don't confuse the lawyers or the paper with facts. They want to print a story that will make people read it and damn the company.
Ruger9X19 1
The problem is proving innocence when the investigation is specifically excluded from being used as evidence and thus all the exculpatory evidence is destroyed during the investigative process. The big guys like Boeing get a leg up because they are "invited" to participate in the investigation. So they can compile evidence along side the investigation (their employees have first hand knowledge of the parts they investigate) the smaller guys get no such access and the info in the reports is hearsay. This is how mechanics get sued for millions and loose. We are only allowed our records to defend our selves.
From the NTSB: "To ensure that Safety Board investigations focus only on improving transportation safety, the Board's analysis of factual information and its determination of probable cause cannot be entered as evidence in a court of law. "
John Hodge 2
Any factual findings made by the NTSB during the investigation are admissible but the NTSB opinions and conclusions are not. What is quoted is saying exactly that. Their “analysis of factual information and its determination” are what they conclude from looking at the evidence and their educated guess. But any factual finding, aka silicon in the fuel line, is admissible.
Ruger9X19 1
The Board disagrees and pushes this position.
In a civil trial, the admissibility of these NTSB reports under Rule 803(8)(C) is specifically circumscribed by the federal “exclusionary rule,” 49 U.S.C.A. § 1554(b), which provides that “no part of a report of the Board, related to an accident or investigation of an accident, may be admitted into evidence or used in a civil action for damages resulting from a matter mentioned in the report.”
John Hodge 1
When has the Board ever disagreed with their factual findings being used in a case? Your statement "In a civil trail..." is a direct lift from TKK Law Firms website and if you keep reading the very next sentence is "The case law reflects a split in precedent with many courts holding that the exclusionary rule prohibits admission only of NTSB opinions and conclusions, while allowing admission of factual findings." There is a very limited number of times the courts have excluded the entire NTSB report. You'd have to read each case to find out why but I'd image there was a very specific reason. I can't find anything saying that NTSB doesn't want their factual findings being used in a case; it may exist but I can't find anything.
Ruger9X19 1
PDF "The NTSB’s Role in Aviation Safety",d.eXY
Ruger9X19 1
The relevant parts so people don't have to open the link

Paragraph 3 States:
The primary role of NTSB is improving safety of our nation’s transportation system. The agency determines the probable cause of accidents and issues safety recommendations to prevent similar occurrences. It does not determine fault or liability. In fact, according to 49 U.S.C. § 1154(b), “No part of a report of the Board, related to an accident or an investigation of an accident, may be admitted into evidence or used in a civil action for damages resulting from a matter mentioned in the report.” 1

Footnote 1 reads:

1 49 U.S.C. § 1154(b) (2006). See Chiron Corp. & PerSeptive Biosystems, Inc. v. Nat'l Transp. Safety Bd., 198 F.3d 935, 940 (D.C. Cir. 1999) (“The simple truth here is that NTSB investigatory procedures are not designed to facilitate litigation, and Congress has made it clear that the Board and its reports should not be used to the advantage or disadvantage of any party in a civil lawsuit.”). See also Knous v. United States, 2:13-CV-00075-WCO, 2013 WL 5970333 (N.D. Ga. Nov. 7, 2013) (holding that plaintiffs’s pleadings in a civil suit against the FAA could not rely upon findings of probable cause in an NTSB accident report). See generally John D. Goetz and Dana Balocco, Excluding NTSB Final Aircraft Accident Reports and FAA Airworthiness Directives at Trial, Air and Space Lawyer, Volume 17, No.4, at 8 (Spring 2003).
John Hodge 1
I have never made the argument the NTSB report is admissible. As you pointed out, it’s not. A report is nothing more than the NTSB analysis of facts and determination. However any factual findings the NTSB made during the investigation is admissible. If the NTSB finds silicon in a fuel line then the defendant can use that information.
patrick baker 7
the creep in the picture is the lawyer who filed this suit. He does not know of what he speaks or writes, for homebuilts are not dangers as he seems to think. These aircraft have to pass faa inspection, so if there is a remedy, it is having tighter inspections, not plaintiff fishing expeditions, using a sweet little girl as your best ammunition.
jacob wall 4
According to the NTSB the pilot failed to properly maintain the aircraft.
Ruger9X19 4
It would be nice if a court would throw out this lawsuit under the premise the suit names the wrong party. The grandfather / pilot was the manufacturer and his estate should be the defendant.
After taking a cursory look at the lawsuit, I believe the claim against Van's Aircraft is pretty much baseless. The filing grossly misrepresents the nature of the experimental category. Essentially, they assert that the category exists to promote individual innovation, and that Van's is perverting the intent of the category by manufacturing easy-to-assemble kits that don't serve that innovation purpose.

But the aircraft commonly known as "homebuilts" fall under the "experimental amateur-built" legal category, and the defining criteria for this category is that the aircraft is built by an amateur for "educational and recreational purposes." There is absolutely nothing calling out innovation as a criteria.

There's no merit whatsoever to their assertion that Van's is exploiting a loophole. E-AB is about education and recreation, and the RV kits in no way subvert that purpose. You still have to fabricate and prepare parts, shoot rivets, plan and install engine and electrical systems, rig control surfaces, etc.

I'm 3+ years into an RV-8 build, and maybe halfway done. I can tell you for sure that any assertion that these "kits" are some kind of mindless plug-and-play is 100% wrong. Education is unavoidable when building an RV. Recreation could probably be argued, cause sometimes it's more frustrating than it is rewarding!
Ruger9X19 2
I have an A&P and occasionally rebuild an aircraft that was an insurance write-off. I have looked into building kits to sell and in my research have found Van's to be top notch when it comes to engineering support. But the liability on the back end makes me wary of any homebuilt kits. At least with a certificated design I can prove with documentation it was rebuilt to type design. With homebuilt aircraft the buck stops here, according to my laywer.
Ruger9X19 2
Wish you could edit comments on here.

What I meant to add on the was good luck with your build and I would love to see pictures of the project when it is done.
Thanks! If you're ever having difficulty sleeping at night, you can read through my build log:
Ruger9X19 1
Hmm, This is interesting in their suite section 22 they Say
" The FAA has deemed this an important design requirement in the interestof safety, promulgating Federal AviationRegulation23.1137(c)requiring it."

I just looked through my current copy of CFR 14.C.23 and do not see a 23.1137 anywhere? Googled it and can't seem to find it either.

I do see 23.955 (a)
(2) If there is a fuel flowmeter, it must be blocked during the flow test and the fuel must flow through the meter or its bypass.

(3) If there is a flowmeter without a bypass, it must not have any probable failure mode that would restrict fuel flow below the level required for this fuel demonstration.

So no the FAA does not "Require" a bypass

Case Dismissed!
Ruger9X19 1
Oh, wow part paragraph 23 of their suite is even worse they state "AN fittings requires use of a third party product to act as a sealant"

Every AN tube fitting I use and as the standard is designed is a metal to metal joint requiring proper torque to seal. That paragraph should be enough to prove the case is a fraud.
joel wiley 1
Page 8 line 19 of the complaint:
f. The subject transducer did not meet the FAA's minimum safety standard set forth
in Federal Aviation Regulation in 23.1137(c);

Text of the section:

§23.1123 Exhaust system.

(a) Each exhaust system must be fireproof and corrosion-resistant, and must have means to prevent failure due to expansion by operating temperatures.

(b) Each exhaust system must be supported to withstand the vibration and inertia loads to which it may be subjected in operation.

(c) Parts of the system connected to components between which relative motion could exist must have means for flexibility.

[Doc. No. 4080, 29 FR 17955, Dec. 18, 1964, as amended by Amdt. 23-43, 58 FR 18974, Apr. 9, 1993]

Found at:

Seems to me we could google 'non sequitur'
Tim Marks 3
The exterior of the airplane is required to display 'EXPERIMENTAL' if it is a kit-built aircraft. There is an inherent risk in flying - God did not provide humans with wings biologically - and did the sign on the side of the plane not give you a clue that there is an even higher risk flying in something that did not require an expensive ticket to get into a seat? Now, this idiot, with his acusational lawsuit, who apparently has no clue about the homebuilt aviation market (never been to Oshkosh for sure) wants to bring down the wrath of the US Guberment onto one (and eventually all) homebuilders. It is a shame your family members died in an airplane accident, but taking your anger out on the thousands of pilots who build their aircraft is cowardly and very selfish. Take some responsibility into your life and accept that accidents happen, the fuel blockage was not intentionally put into the design of the aircraft and was the responsibility of the airplane builder to comply with the existing regualtions for the experimental category. I hope the judge reviews this one and throws it out of court, but the lawsuit was filed in liberal-ville oregon...
linbb 2
A few years back drag racing almost was ended as one driver got in an on track accident when things went wrong with one car. A suit was filed and thank goodness the documents signed by the competitors held up. The same goes here I hope with the findings of this also. Knowing Van somewhat over the years this is the last thing he would want to hurt home builts or flying in general.
canuck44 4
Two things need to happen here: The family should be charged with child neglect and the case should result in loser pay decision. This type of suit is pure crap and will continue until this type of plaintiff and their lawyers are put at substantial risk when their crap shoot doesn't work out.
TailspinT 1
Neglect because they let the child fly with grandfather???
Engine failure, can't make emergency landing, fear, pull up, stall, crash. Text book accident - before and after he applied to much RTV

Unfortunately the manufacturer will probably settle out of court just to make it go away
Sad, and unfortunate, but not within the realm of negligence on the companies side.
Flying is a risk, (privately) and always in an EXPERIMENTAL hence the designation, don't make
a life risk decision for a 4 year old. When I was a new single engine pilot - I never took my son or daughter up when they were very young - and I flew Cessnas & Pipers maintained and built by professionals.
linbb 1
And according to the survivor they climbed out of Newport thru a layer of clouds. This is supported by a met report from that time. He was flying on top at least part of the time.
The old adage fly it until it stops has saved more than one. I also noted that the fuel selector was in the off position and the handle had not been installed as it should have been was noted by another pilot when shown the AC previous.
Jon Stark 2
What do you call a million lawyers at the bottom of the sea ... A GOOD START.
Tim Bailey 1
The reason for the suit against the manufacturer seems fairly clear: the pilot is dead and so cannot be sued for negligence in person (although I suppose a suit against the estate might be possible). It's common practice anyway to name a company or large corporation in a negligence lawsuit because they are more likely to have the pockets to settle before trial. Lawsuits are as much about settlements as they are about anything else.
this is absolutely ridiculous, if anyone is to blame it is the mother for putting her four year old daughter in an experimental aircraft. the pilot knew exactly what he was getting when he purchased the kit and the Vans company has absolutely no liability in this matter. this is just another example of a way to common problem we have with society today. there is no personal responsibility anymore everyone is looking for someone else to blame for their mistakes. this lawsuit should be thrown out.
lynx318 1
How bout we throw another skifter into the deck here & attack the sealant manufacturer for not specifying on the RTV packaging "not suitable for any fuel type" or to the shop who sold the pilot the RTV for supplying a suitable product for fuel too. Although I agree that Vans & Floscan should state what the correct sealant to use be in their instructions, the onus should still be on the assembler to find the correct product overall. I'm surprised the FAA isn't dragged into this on the grounds they haven't introduced certification regulations on homebuilts, but I'll assume their lawyer isn't up to that standard.
joel wiley 2
The seller has shallow pockets, the manufacturer better lawyers.
linbb 1
The age of the child has been brought forward several times in the newspaper comment section and here also. More children have died each year in car crashes due to poor drivers of the car they were in than in AC crashes. It is no more dangerous in an experimental AC than a certified one. That has been proven, Montana a few years back when a fellow took several children to there demise due to pilot error in a certified AC.
Sid Stevens 1
This is such a tragedy! I feel for the family!
Yes, a lot of lawyers are scum of the earth, but they couldn't be that way with out the family hiring them. So we are our own worst enemy. People need to stop being sue happy. Clearly Van's is not responsible for this crash.
It sounds like the person that installed the fuel flow transducer is at fault.
joel wiley 1
True the family hired the lawyer. But do you suppose the case came to the lawyer out of the clear blue sky? The late SF attorney Melvin Belli, when accused that his attorneys were a much of 'ambulance chasers', retorted "if they can beat the ambulance to the scene, I'll fire them!". I suspect that Mr. Clark was just the winning shark in that tank.
mnrobards 1
It's very sad a that people were hurt and killed but the step grandfather built the airplane from a kit. The parents allowed there kids to fly in the airplane without question ? Did the parents understand the risk associated with kit built aircraft ? People who use unapproved materials and/or do repairs they are not certified to complete will never stop and it's not the manufacturer's fault. Cessna, who in my option make a great aircraft got out of the single engine plane business years ago due to the cost of lawsuits on their older aircraft. While they have started production on a few of there single models, they are expensive with some of the cost set aside for future law suits. The jury will award money to the family making the lawyers rich and family seeing little of it.
David Loh 1
Pilot aka home builder don't know much about building a plane from a kit. As reported by his mechanic friend
Pilot don't know a home built is called experimental for a reason.
Pilot don't know how to perform forced landing. As reported in the description of the way the plane crashed.
Pilot crashes and innocent child dies.
Family wants to sue plane kit maker.
What for??
joel wiley 1
Pilot was child's grandfather, his estate is not named in the suit- too close to picking your own pocket.
Kit maker has deeper pockets, the other respondent just caught in the shotgun blast.

Many lawsuits never go to trial under 'pay to go away', a leagal form of strong-arm robbery.

If it goes to trial, you can be sure no pilots or A&P mechanics on the jury.
keith dickson 1
I am glad we have government controlled ACC in New Zealand that stops greedy people and law suits as you can not sue If they are not guilty the stress for the accused is worth a counter case
joel wiley 1
In America 'law suits' are called, among other things, lawyers. Lawsuits are what they file hoping to get 1/3 of the proceeds (off the top). Here lawyers write the laws, and it shows.
mike SUT 1
I downloaded the actual Lawsuit PDF and they state that Vans does not have an aircraft designer and that contributed to the accident.....then when you go deeper, it talks about the Vans designed aircraft not once but Mr. Lawyer...which is it, designed or not by Vans. No personal responsibility in that lawsuit regarding the builder who built mention of whether he used FAA approved sealants for the fuel transducer or just went to lowes and got something. That's the problem these days....should be an interesting trial.
joel wiley 1
One thing I like about the Oregonian is that they do include informational links- in this case to the complaint. After perusing it, I have some questions:
1. What is the FAA involvement in Vans RV design? Do they review the kit design, or wait until a kit is assembled to begin. (Seems to me Vans had FAA review at some point).
2. Complaint assertion "Vans untested unproven unsafe design", transducer with with A/N fitting w/o sealant specifications" These sound like hyperbole right out of the lawyer class "swallowing camels and straining at gnats"
Just a lawyer trying to retire. Not Vans fault. Read the NTSB report. This lawyer is trying to destroy the home built movement for his personal gain.
Marilyn Dixon 0
It is a grief-stricken family wanting to blame someone for the death of their daughter, and since they cannot blame the grandfather and don't want to blame themselves, they blame the airplane. So they go to a lawyer.
Cigarette manufacturers can sell their product which even when used properly will kill/harm you, why can't we have similar no liability laws for experimental, home-built and re-built aircraft? Money and a lobbiest in congress.
Ken Lane 1
While the NTSB puts it on the pilot/builder, all it's going to take is playing to the emotions and ignorance of a jury and they'll walk away with an award. That strategy has some hope in someplace like Oregon.
joel wiley 1
That also plays out in the other 49 states as well when planitiff's attorneys pick the jury.
Right , when stops that money grabbing menthality of this lawer.
People realize , this familey took the risk , that is not the fault of
the company
Another low life lawyer blackmailing a company using a disfunctional legal system created by lawyers who run the judiciary system and make up 90% +/- of Congress.
Ruger9X19 0
Unfortunately NTSB accident reports are not allowed to be used as evidence. So the defendant has to prove there was silicone and it is likely the defendant does not have access to the wreckage and it is not likely to be complete any longer (parts sold for scrap, etc.) They also have to prove the pilot acted improperly again with little evidence available to them that hasn't been tainted by the accident investigation. They will probably depose the mechanic witness to the previous use of improper procedures, but who is to say he didn't correct those issues since then. This is why it is so difficult for manufactures, and other mechanics to defend aviation maintenance issues in court. The evidence to exonerate them has been destroyed and the reports are inadmissible.
canuck44 2
Actually exceptions have been made and courts have ruled that the factual portions of NTSB reports can be admitted but all the opinion aspects must be excluded including the final conclusions to avoid these opinions displacing the jury's duty.

In this case this will be critical for the defense as you point out the evidence has been destroyed. The defense will bring in the factual evidence and hire experts to pass the opinions for the jury avoiding the appearance of the government making the judgment. Of course the plaintiffs will try to exclude the factual parts as well.


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