The Court of Appeals of Ohio recently reversed a district court’s grant of summary judgment to an aircraft parts manufacturer based upon the “rolling provision” of the General Aviation Revitalization Act (“GARA”). The case, Hetzer-Young v. Precision Airmotive et al., arose out of an aircraft accident in which the pilot and his two passengers were killed. The plaintiff alleged that the aircraft experienced a sudden loss of engine power when the aircraft’s muffler’s flame tube separated and blocked the exhaust. The defendant responsible for the manufacture of the muffler, Unison Industries, Inc. (successor to the actual manufacturer, Elano corp.), argued that GARA barred the plaintiff’s action because the aircraft was manufactured in 1974, more than 30 years before the crash. However, the plaintiff argued that an entry in the aircraft’s logbook dated August 28, 1987 stating “replaced muffler,” established that the original muffler was replaced with a new muffler and, thus, the 18 year limitation period under the “rolling provision” of GARA began anew when the muffler was replaced. As a result, the plaintiff contended, the action was not barred by GARA.
The district court judge agreed with Unison and granted summary judgment, although the judge’s exact basis for granting the motion is not clear from the Court of Appeals opinion. The plaintiff appealed, arguing that the aircraft logbook entry was admissible evidence that created a genuine issue of material fact as to whether the muffler was actually replaced. Unison contended that the logbook entry was inadmissible and, even if admissible, it did not create a material fact that prevented dismissal based upon GARA.
The Court of Appeals agreed with the plaintiff and reversed the grant of summary judgment. The Court determined that the logbook entry was admissible under both the business records and ancient document exceptions to the hearsay rule. It next found that the plaintiff’s experts provided proof that the generally accepted meaning in the aviation industry for “replaced muffler” was that a new muffler was installed on the aircraft. The Court concluded that the plaintiff “presented sufficient evidence from which a reasonable jury could conclude that it is more likely than not that the muffler found on the accident aircraft, which is alleged to have caused the accident, was installed as a new replacement part in August 1987.” As a result, whether the plaintiff’s claim was barred by GARA was an issue involving a question of fact that would have to be decided by a jury. Summary judgment was therefore inappropriate on plaintiff’s claims against the muffler manufacturer.