Court Denies Aircraft Engine Manufacturer’s Motion for Summary Judgment Based on Military Contractor Defense

The plaintiff filed a Third Amended Complaint against United Technologies Corporation, alleging that UTC was liable in negligence and strict liability for the allegedly defective warnings accompanying Pratt and Whitney TF-30 aircraft engines and for their allegedly defective designs. The plaintiff claims that these defects led to her husband Darryl Dugas’ exposure to asbestos and mesothelioma.

During his service in the U.S. Navy, Mr. Dugas worked at Cecil Field in Jacksonville, Florida and aboard the USS Franklin D. Roosevelt. As part of his duties, he inspected, maintained, and repaired the exterior of A-7 aircraft, which sometimes involved the use of the epoxy adhesive “934.” He also assisted in the removal and re-installation of Pratt and Whitney TF-30 engines, which sometimes entailed the use of compressed air inside the engine bay and which resulted in airborne debris. According to the opinion, the Pratt and Whitney engines sold during Mr. Dugas’ tenure in the Navy contained “asbestos-laden” components, which were intended to be “consumable” and which would break down over time and be replaced with identical Pratt and Whitney replacement parts.

UTC moved for summary judgment on the basis of the military contractor defense. In Boyle v. United Technologies Corp., 487 U.S. 500 (1988), the Supreme Court explained that the military contractor defense would bar liability to military contractors when “(1) the United States approved reasonably precise specifications; (2) the equipment conformed with those specifications; and (3) the supplier warned the United States about the dangers in the use of the equipment that were known to the supplier but not to the United States.” The trial court underscored that the defense does not apply in cases where the government “merely approved imprecise or general guidelines and the contractor retained the discretion over the design feature in question.” Simply stated, the military contractor defense “is available only when the defendant demonstrates with respect to its design and manufacturing decisions that the government made me do it.”

The trial court found that it was unclear whether the government reviewed, considered and approved UTC’s use of asbestos in the TF-30 engines. It also stated that UTC knew of the hazards of asbestos by 1952, that UTC was unable to produce contracts for its sale of the TF-30 engines to the Navy and that “not all of the asbestos-containing parts were necessarily required to be included with the TF-30 engines, nor it is clear that the Navy knew the parts contained asbestos.” The court further determined that there was sufficient evidence for a reasonable jury to decide whether UTC was prevented from including a warning with the engines. Accordingly, the court denied UTC’s motion for summary judgment.

Read the full decision here.