A judge in Reno, NV recently granted an aircraft kit manufacturer’s motion for summary judgment based upon the plaintiffs’ failure to provide proof of causation. According to an AP Article, the case was initiated after the pilot’s Lancair experimental aircraft crashed at the Grand Canyon, killing the pilot and his three passengers. The families sued Lancair alleging that the aircraft was defective. Lancair’s denied that the aircraft was defective and asserted that the crash resulted from the pilot’s incapacitation or by the pilot’s attempt to perform an aerobatic maneuver that the plane couldn’t handle.
Before trial, Lancair moved for summary judgment arguing that the plaintiffs had not presented any issue of fact regarding the cause of the accident. A week before trial, the judge granted Lancair’s motion. The judge found that the plaintiffs’ aeronautics expert was unable to identify a specific part of the plane that had failed, which would have made the company liable. The judge further held that the expert’s blanket determination that the accident was caused by a “catastrophic failure” was insufficient. In the absence of a material factual dispute regarding causation, the judge dismissed the claims against Lancair.
This is an unusual case because the element of causation is typically not appropriate for summary judgment. Usually the plaintiff’s expert is able to state a theory that is sufficient to, at a minimum, create a factual dispute regarding causation that precludes a judge from granting summary judgment. That isn’t to say that it has to be a good theory. Rather, it simply has to be plausible enough to create that factual dispute.
Not sure whether the plaintiffs here needed a different expert or, perhaps, the expert was simply unable to identify a failed or defective part that the expert could have reasonably argued caused the accident. Since the plaintiffs’ attorneys have indicated that they will likely appeal the judge’s decision, the case is not over. We will have to wait to see whether the appeals court agrees with the judge’s decision.