TAMPA (CN) – Aircraft owners can sue Porsche for allegedly endangering their lives by not providing a feasible replacement for discontinued aircraft engines, a Florida judge ruled.
Several corporations and individual airplane owners claim that German car manufacturer Porsche and its American subsidiaries, which manufactured and distributed aircraft engines used in Mooney airplanes, failed to correct mechanical problems affecting Porsche engines and stopped manufacturing spare parts for airplane engines that were discontinued around 1989. They sued Porsche for fraud, negligence and unfair trade practices.
From the mid-1980s until 1989, Mooney bought and installed more than 40 Porsche engines in their U.S. aircraft. Porsche’s aircraft engines were covered by a customer assurance and warranty program, which transferred with the sale of the aircraft. When Porsche stopped producing its aircraft engines, the company promised to continue providing support and manufacturing engine parts for the Porsche PFM engine, according to the ruling.
But after struggling with valve spring assembly failures that prompted the Federal Aviation Administration and its German equivalent to warn airplane owners about the airworthiness of Porsche engines, Porsche announced it would discontinue production of engine parts for its PFM engine.
The plaintiffs claim Porsche offered airplane owners a conversion plan to replace their Porsche PFM engines with different ones that were suitable for Mooney aircraft.
Porsche signed an agreement with Mod Works, a Florida corporation, which claimed the installation of a different engine would improve aircraft performance and increase the value of the airplanes that originally contained Porsche PFM engines.
While some airplanes were never converted, the ones that did became slower and their load capacity changed, according to the ruling. The conversion program ended when Hurricane Charley destroyed the Mod Works plant in August 2004.
The plaintiffs allege that Porsche “did not provide to the FAA or anyone else the technical data necessary to manufacture spare parts,” creating an unsafe condition.
Porsche countered that the plaintiffs’ claims were barred by several statutes of limitations, including a 12-year statute of repose under Florida law. The manufacturer claimed that it had made clear that it decided to withdraw from the aviation industry in the late 1990s.
In a 21-page ruling on Jan. 26, U.S. District Judge Elizabeth Kovachevich dismissed Porsche’s argument, finding that the last element of the plaintiffs’ claims occurred no earlier than Oct. 26, 2007, when Porsche gave up its Type Certificate which allowed it to manufacture the PFM engine. “It was not until Porsche surrendered their European TC that the plaintiffs were put on notice that their airplanes would never be fully converted,” Kovachevich wrote.
Porsche also argued that the plaintiffs had failed to assert any negligence claims that did not arise out of a contract, and therefore their claims were barred by the economic loss rule.
The court rejected this argument as well, finding that the plaintiffs had based their action on Porsche’s intentional or negligent failure to complete the engine conversion program. “Even if a contract were to be found to exist, claims for economic damage based on fraud in the inducement, conversion, and civil theft are independent torts and, thus, actionable despite existence of contract between the parties,” Kovachevich ruled.
In its motion for summary judgment, Porsche claimed that it had no legal duty to continue manufacturing parts or providing service for the PFM engine after withdrawing from the aviation industry.
The court disagreed. “While it may be true that Porsche had no duty to provide a conversion program and simply surrender their TC and withdraw from the aviation industry, that is not what Porsche did,” Kovachevich wrote (emphasis in original). “Porsche instead contracted with Mod Works to implement their conversion program of the plaintiffs airplanes, a conversion program that was never completed. Mod Works, acting as Porsches’ (sic) agent, was responsible for the engine conversion.”
Porsche also chose to ignore a feasibility study that suggested the conversion program had no chance to succeed, according to the ruling.
Kovachevich dismissed the plaintiffs’ claim for strict product liability, finding that none of the plaintiffs had suffered a personal injury as a result of a defective Porsche engine.