ESTATE OF VIRGIL VICTOR BECKER, JR., by its Personal Representative, Jennifer L. White, Petitioner,
AVCO CORPORATION; PRECISION AIRMOTIVE LLC; VOLARE CARBURETORS LLC; MARVEL-SCHEBLER CARBURETORS LLC; TEMPEST PLUS MARKETING GROUP LLC; AERO ACCESSORIES, INC.; SYNERGY SYSTEMS, INC.; CASHMERE MOLDING, INC.; CREST AIRPARK, INC.; PREMIER AIRCRAFT ENGINES, INC; AUBURN FLIGHT SERVICE, INC; and ESTATE OF BRENDA L. HOUSTON, by its Personal Representative PAUL THOMAS CREWS, Defendants, and FORWARD TECHNOLOGY INDUSTRIES, INC., Respondent.
Victor Becker, a retired doctor, was killed in a plane crash.
His estate (Estate) claimed that a faulty carburetor caused
the crash. Forward Technology Industries Inc. (FTI) built a
component for that carburetor. The Estate brought numerous
claims against FTI, including a state product liability claim
implicating a faulty carburetor component. FTI moved for
summary judgment, arguing that the Federal Aviation
Administration Authorization Act of 1994 (Federal Aviation
Act), Pub. L. No. 103-305, 108 Stat. 1569, preempted state
certain circumstances, federal law and state law will
interact in such a way that the federal law will take
priority and preempt state law. The Federal Aviation Act does
not include an express preemption clause. However, federal
law can preempt state law if it pervasively occupies a
particular field of law. The Third Circuit recently found
that federal aviation regulations do not preempt the state
product liability of an aviation systems manufacturer because
they are not so pervasive as to indicate congressional intent
to preempt state law. We follow the Third Circuit and find
that the Federal Aviation Act does not preempt state law.
Accordingly, we reverse the Court of Appeals and remand to
the trial court for further proceedings.
2008, a single-propeller airplane crashed near McMurray,
Washington. The pilot and two passengers were killed in the
crash. One of those passengers was Becker, a retired doctor.
Though the parties dispute the ultimate cause of the crash,
the Estate claims that the engine stalled due to a poorly
manufactured carburetor and that this engine failure led to
the crash and the death of Becker.
plane's fuel system was designed and produced by
Precision Airmotive LLC (Precision). Though Precision
assembled the final product, it contracted with several other
companies to produce various components for the fuel system,
including the carburetor. FTI was one of those companies.
normally manufactures machines designed to weld plastic
parts. Sometime before 1997, it sold Precision a machine
designed to heat and hermetically seal two plastic components
together. Though Precision bought the machine and three tools
capable of sealing three different types of carburetor
components, it subsequently contracted FTI to use two of
those tools to weld carburetor floats for Precision.
would procure two plastic components from a plastics
manufacturer and ship those components to FTI. Using
Precision's tools, FTI would weld the plastic components
into a completed, sealed carburetor float. After a batch of
these floats was completed, FTI would test them and send them
produced floats for Precision from at least 1997 until 2005.
During that time, it produced over 30, 000 floats. FTI
understood that it was responsible for generating carburetor
floats that would eventually be placed in airplane engines.
It also knew that the weld on the float needed to be perfect
for the float to function properly. Around 2001, a carburetor
containing one of these floats was installed in the plane
that crashed and killed Becker.
its investigation into the crash, the National Transportation
Safety Board examined the carburetor of the downed airplane.
The investigation revealed that one chamber of the float was
completely filled with aviation fuel. A float filled with
fuel can force the engine's fuel feed to remain open,
causing the engine to flood and stall out. The investigator
did not explain what caused the float to leak and fill with
fuel. However, the Estate asserts that the float leaked
because of an imperfect weld applied by FTI.
2010, the Estate and another plaintiff filed suit against FTI
and 11 other defendants. The Estate claimed numerous tort
violations, alleging FTI and the other defendants had caused
an unreasonably dangerous condition in the carburetor float
and that this condition caused the airplane's engine to
stall, resulting in the crash that caused Becker's death.
moved for summary judgment. It argued that because of
pervasive Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations,
federal law occupied the field of aviation safely and that
all of the Estate's state law claims were preempted. In
the alternative, FTI argued that the Estate could bring a
product liability action only under the Washington tort
reform and product liability act (WPLA), chapter 7.72
County Superior Court granted the motion for summary judgment
on federal preemption grounds, declining to address the WPLA
issue. The Estate subsequently filed a motion for
reconsideration and a motion for leave to file a third
amended complaint. The trial court denied both motions.
Estate and the other plaintiff settled the remaining claims,
deconsolidated their cases, and voluntarily dismissed the