A crew member injured by an aircraft’s defective design may sue to hold the aircraft manufacturer accountable. At least he can when the aircraft involved in the accident was a civilian aircraft. If, however, the airplane or helicopter was a military aircraft, then the rules change.
A manufacturer who built an aircraft specifically for the military may be able to avoid liability to those injured by the aircraft’s design by asserting the "government contractor defense." That defense provides the manufacturer complete immunity from lawsuits. But the Supreme Court ruled in Boyle v.United Technologies that a manufacturer can take advantage of that defense only if it can prove all of the following things:
- That the US government specifically required or approved the design feature that caused the accident or injury;
- That what the manufacturer built conformed to the specifications that the government approved, and
- That the manufacturer warned the government about any dangers in the design that the manufacturer knew about and that the government didn’t.
If the manufacturer fails to prove all three of these things, then it may be sued just as a manufacturer of a civilian aircraft, and an injured crewmember is entitled to hold it accountable for any injuries the aircraft’s design caused him.