Monday, January 7, 2008

Spatial Products - Product Liability Issues

I am planning on periodically posting summaries of significant spatial law cases. The first is Brocklesby v. U.S. 767 F.2d 1288 (9th Cir. 1985). It was decided in 1985 and is a very significant case in the area of product liability.

In Brocklesby, survivors of a plane crash brought an action against the publisher of allegedly defective instrument approach chart. The publisher used data from the FAA to portray the instrument approach procedures on a chart. The pilot was using this chart during the flight that crashed. The case, which was heard in California, was submitted to the jury on three theories of liability: breach of warranty, negligence and strict liability. Jeppeson had a number of defenses to these claims, including (1) the case did not involve a defective “product” for strict liability purposes, (2) that the defects in the FAA data will not support strict liability against Jeppeson, and (3) policy considerations barred any tort liability in this case.

In its ruling, the court found that the chart was a product, citing Aetna Casualty and Surety Co. v. Jeppesen & Co. 642 F.2d 339 (9th Cir. 1981). It also found that strict liability was applicable, citing Saloomey v. Jeppesen & Co., 707 F.2d 671 (2nd Cir. 1983) (“Though a ‘product’ may not include mere provision of architectural design plans or any similar form of data supplied under individually-tailored service arrangements, .. . the mass production and marketing of these charts requires Jeppesen to bear the costs of accidents that are proximately caused by defects in the charts.”) . Moreover, the court held that strict liability applied even though all “the defects in the Jeppesen chart stem from the Government's alleged failure to establish a safe instrument approach procedure.” The court held that “we note that Jeppesen had at least some ability to prevent injuries to users of its charts. Jeppesen’s production specifications manual required its employees to research any procedure thoroughly ‘to determine its validity and completeness’ . . . [a]ccordingly, Jeppesen had both the ability to detect an error and a mechanism for seeking corrections.” Moreover, the court found that “strict liability is appropriate even though ‘the seller has exercised all possible care int eh preparation and sale of his product.’”.

With respect to the public policy issue, Jeppesen stated that it was unfair to hold it strictly liable for “accurately republishing a government regulation.” However, the court stated that “Jeppesen's charts are more than just a republication of the text of the government's procedures. Jeppesen converts a government procedure from text into graphic form and represents that the chart contains all necessary information. . . [a]s the manufacturer and marketer of those products, Jeppesen assumed the responsibility for insuring that the charts are not unreasonably dangerous in their intended use.”

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