In a decision filed July 8, 2004, the Wisconsin Court of Appeals has upheld an aircraft maintenance provider’s right to receive payment for inspection work requested by an aircraft owner and performed by the service provider even when the aircraft owner ultimately has another facility perform the repair work identified in the inspection. Wisconsin Aviation Four Lakes, Inc. v. Berryman, involved an aircraft owner, Berryman, who stored his aircraft with Wisconsin Aviation and, after two years of outside storage, requested Wisconsin Aviation to perform an annual inspection.
After beginning the inspection and discovering that the aircraft required numerous repairs, the Wisconsin Aviation mechanic stopped the inspection and prepared an estimate totaling $18,624.79 that detailed the required repairs and the costs of those repairs. When Berryman received the estimate, he instructed Wisconsin Aviation to stop all work while he considered his options. Berryman then obtained estimates from two other repair facilities which were substantially less than Wisconsin Aviation’s estimate and did not include four major items from Wisconsin Aviation’s estimate that they felt were unnecessary.
Berryman ultimately had his aircraft repaired by another repair facility and Wisconsin Aviation invoiced Berryman $561.68 for the costs incurred in performing the partial inspection. Berryman refused to pay and Wisconsin Aviation sued. Berryman counterclaimed alleging that Wisconsin Aviation intentionally misrepresented the required repairs, negligently performed the inspection and breached its contract with him.
After a bench trial, the trial court judge dismissed all of Berryman’s counterclaims finding that Berryman had not presented sufficient evidence to support those claims. However, the judge also refused to award Wisconsin Aviation its invoice amount finding that all of the items included in Wisconsin Aviation’s estimate were not necessary even though the estimate implied that they were, and thus that the estimate was not worth the invoice amount.
On appeal, the Court of Appeals disagreed. It found that Berryman received benefit from the work actually performed by Wisconsin Aviation. Not only was Wisconsin Aviation able to get the aircraft’s engine to start and to identify twenty or more repairs that were necessary and eventually performed, but Berryman also received benefit from having more than one estimate for repairs to compare and choose from. The court concluded that “just because a customer elects to reject a service provider’s repair estimate and to have further work performed elsewhere at lesser cost, the customer is not absolved of liability for payment for services the provider actually performed at the customer’s request”.
“The Court also noted that it would be bad public policy to deny Wisconsin Aviation a recovery: This was a reasonable and responsible business practice on the part of Wisconsin Aviation, and one to be encouraged, not discouraged by depriving Wisconsin Aviation of its concededly reasonable charges for the services it performed at Berryman’s request.”
This is a good opinion for aircraft mechanics and service providers, as well as for aircraft owners. If you are providing service at a fair and reasonable price at the request of an aircraft owner, this case says that you are entitled to be paid for that work. This case also says that if you are an aircraft owner and you request work on your aircraft, you will be responsible for only that work which you have requested and authorized.
It is unfortunate that a case for $561.68 would actually go to trial and then be argued to the Court of Appeals. Hopefully Mr. Berryman will not pursue a further appeal to the Wisconsin Supreme Court.