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Rogers v. Bell Helicopter Textron

June 4, 2010

ALIKA ROGERS, PLAINTIFF AND APPELLANT,
v.
BELL HELICOPTER TEXTRON, INC., DEFENDANT AND RESPONDENT.



APPEAL from a judgment of the Superior Court of Sacramento County, Lloyd A. Phillips, Judge. (Retired Judge of the Sacramento Super. Ct. assigned by the Chief Justice pursuant to art. VI, § 6 of the Cal. Const.) Reversed. (Super. Ct. No. 06AS02842).

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Robie, J.

CERTIFIED FOR PUBLICATION

Plaintiff Alika Rogers was injured in 2005 when the Bell 47D1 helicopter she was piloting crashed near the Rancho Murieta Airport. Among others, Rogers sued the helicopter's manufacturer, defendant Bell Helicopter Textron, Inc. (Bell), for negligence. Rogers's claim against Bell was based on an allegedly defective maintenance manual that improperly instructed on balancing the helicopter's tail rotor blades. The helicopter had been in operation since 1951, and the maintenance manual was issued in 1969 and was last revised in 1975.

Bell filed a motion in limine to exclude evidence that the maintenance manual was defective and caused the accident, arguing Rogers's claim was barred as a matter of law by an 18-year federal statute of repose, the General Aviation Revitalization Act of 1994 (Pub.L. No. 103-298 (Aug. 17, 1994) 108 Stat. 1552, as amended by Pub.L. No. 105-102, § 3(e) (Nov. 20, 1997) 111 Stat. 2215; printed at 49 U.S.C. § 40101, note; further undesignated section references are to the Act).*fn1

The trial court granted the motion, agreeing with Bell that the maintenance manual was a "part" of the helicopter and was last revised in 1975, rejecting Rogers's argument that the Act did not apply because the manual was not a part of the helicopter. Bell then successfully moved for a non-suit based on the lack of admissible evidence against it. Rogers appeals from the resulting judgment against her.

We conclude the maintenance manual here was not a "part" of the helicopter, and therefore the trial court erred in granting Bell's motion in limine and motion for non-suit.

DISCUSSION

"The proper interpretation of a statute, and its application to undisputed facts, is a question of law that we review de novo." (California Forestry Assn. v. California Fish & Game Commission (2007) 156 Cal.App.4th 1535, 1544.) In this de novo review, we begin with the words of the statute. (Id. at pp. 1544-1545.)

With exceptions not applicable here, the Act reads as follows:

"(a)... no civil action for damages for death or injury to persons or damage to property arising out of an accident involving a general aviation aircraft may be brought against the manufacturer of the aircraft or the manufacturer of any new component, system, subassembly, or other part of the aircraft, in its capacity as a manufacturer if the accident occurred--

"(1) after the applicable limitation period beginning on--

"(A) the date of delivery of the aircraft to its first purchaser or lessee, if delivered directly from the manufacturer; or

"(B) the date of first delivery of the aircraft to a person engaged in the business of selling or leasing such aircraft; or

"(2) with respect to any new component, system, subassembly, or other part which replaced another component, system, subassembly, or other part originally in, or which was added to, the aircraft, and which is alleged to have caused such death, injury, or damage, after the applicable limitation period ...


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