Bonanza N7472N crashed in December 2008 after its engine failed in flight. The engine failed because the crankshaft broke. The 25 year-old pilot was killed in the forced landing attempt. The pilot’s widow sued Continental Motors, alleging that the crankshaft, which was only 58 hours old, was defective. This week, the jury sided with Continental.
The plaintiff brought the suit in Continental’s home court, in Mobile, Alabama. The key ruling, according to well-known plaintiff’s attorney Kirk Presley, was the judge’s decision to keep from the jury evidence of other similar failures of Continental crankshafts. That sort of evidence is often crucial. If a jury hears of other similar failures, it is more likely to find against the manufacturer. If it doesn’t, it tends to believe that there is nothing wrong with the product and finds for the defendant. In this case, the jury decided that the fault was not with the crankshaft’s manufacturer but with the facility that installed it into the Bonanza’s IO-520 engine a year before the crash. According to an article appearing in Alabama Live, the facility was Performance Engines.
A similar ruling may have played a key role in the Corey Lidle trial against Cirrus Aircraft. (There, the judge would not allow the jury to learn about other cases where Cirrus controls jammed in the same fashion that plaintiff alleged the controls jammed on Lidle.)
This is the second win in a row for Continental. In 2011 it won a case involving allegedly defective magnetos. That case was also tried in Continental’s home court in Mobile.
The last time Continental lost at trial was 2008, in a case involving cylinders that came loose from an IO-550 engine installed in a 1966 Bonanza. That case was tried in California, and the judge allowed the jury to hear evidence of a limited number of other similar failures.