JANA DAVIDSON, Individually and on behalf of their minor children J.C.D. and K.S.D.; THOMAS FARMER; KENNETH DAVIDSON, Individually and on behalf of their minor children J.C.D. and K.S.D., Plaintiffs - Appellants
FAIRCHILD CONTROLS CORPORATION, Defendant-Appellee
from the United States District Court for the Southern
District of Texas
WIENER, ELROD, and SOUTHWICK, Circuit Judges.
H. SOUTHWICK, Circuit Judge:
the plaintiffs were injured when oil from an airplane's
air cycle machine leaked into the cabin, causing smoke and
fumes to fill the cockpit during their flight. The plaintiffs
brought suit against several defendants. The district court
granted summary judgment to defendant Fairchild Controls
Corporation on a design-defect claim due to a lack of
adequate expert testimony that a feasible alternate design
existed. It also dismissed the failure-to-warn claim because
the plaintiffs were knowledgeable users. We AFFIRM.
AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
31, 2011, two employees of an aerospace and defense
technology company embarked on a mission to determine the
cause of fumes and smoke in one of the company's
airplanes, a Twin Commander 690A. Prior to that flight,
another pilot at the company, William O'Connor,
complained that fumes and smoke had filled the cockpit when
the Twin Commander 690A reached a cruising altitude. The
company wanted the two employees, a pilot and a sensor
operator, to fly the aircraft to determine if the fumes and
smoke problem had been resolved.
problem with the Twin Commander 690A was already known by the
plaintiffs,  who were the pilot, Thomas Farmer, and the
sensor operator, Kenneth Davidson. Farmer had observed fumes
and smoke on 50 prior flights and had repeatedly complained
to the company about his concerns. He knew that the problem
was because of an old air cycle machine ("ACM"),
which was contaminating the air from leakage of oil. Farmer
stated in his deposition that he had "recommended that
the cause of the smoke and fumes, the air cycle machine unit,
be replaced." Farmer was also aware of the negative
health effects of the fumes and smoke, which released a
chemical neurotoxin known as tricresyl phosphate. Farmer had
visited several doctors concerning the damage to his health
from experiencing smoke and fumes on prior flights.
second plaintiff, Davidson, also knew about the fumes and
smoke problem in the Twin Commander 690A. He was warned about
the risk of smoke and fumes in the cockpit by another pilot,
who had experienced the smoke and fumes in the cockpit.
Davidson also researched these risks on the Internet and
emailed management with his concerns.
after take-off on the relevant flight, the plaintiffs could
smell the fumes and see the smoke, but they continued their
mission. By the time they reached an altitude of 28, 000
feet, the smoke and fumes from the oil leakage were
sufficiently severe that both plaintiffs experienced burning
eyes, coughing, and difficulty breathing. They put on oxygen
masks, began descending, depressurized the cabin upon
reaching a lower altitude, and landed shortly thereafter.
From take-off to landing, their flight was between 60 and 90
minutes. An inspection of the airplane after this flight
revealed that oil was leaking from the oil bearings in the
ACM and then escaping into the aircraft's cabin, creating
smoke and fumes in the cockpit.
in the Twin Commander 690A was made by Fairchild Controls
Corporation. Although Fairchild had ceased manufacturing ACMs
in the 1980s, it had retrofitted the ACM in the Twin
Commander 690A in 2007. The ACM, a part of the aircraft's
environmental control system, uses hot air produced by the
aircraft's engines and recycles the air into the cabin
after a cooling and pressurization process. This process was
approved and certified by the Federal Aviation Administration
("FAA") to be used in the Twin Commander 690A.
30, 2014, the plaintiffs filed suit in the United States
District Court for the Southern District of New York based on
diversity jurisdiction. The initial complaint was filed
against many defendants, including Fairchild. By March 2015,
all of the defendants were dismissed from the case except
Fairchild. The New York district court held that it lacked
personal jurisdiction over Fairchild and transferred the case
to the United States District Court for the Southern District
of Texas instead of dismissing the action. In September 2016,
the Texas district court granted Fairchild's motion for
district court rejected the design-defect claim because the
plaintiffs failed to prove than an alternative design was
technologically and economically feasible. The district court
found no merit to the failure-to-warn claim because the
plaintiffs were knowledgeable users, which barred their
recovery on a failure-to-warn theory. The plaintiffs timely
appealed. It is uncontested that New York law applies to the
resolution of the issues presented on appeal.
standard of review on summary judgment is de novo.
United States v. Lawrence, 276 F.3d 193, 195 (5th
Cir. 2001). The court should grant summary judgment when
"there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and
the movant is ...