Over Five Decades Representing
Victims and Their Families

& Stoll

Serving the United States from offices in:
Michigan – Colorado – Pennsylvania

Katzman Lampert & Stoll


Over Five Decades Representing
Victims and Their Families
Serving the United States from offices in:
Michigan – Colorado – Pennsylvania

Federal Preemption and Aviation Liability

sikkelee brief in opposition - federal preemption

Sikkelee Brief in Opposition

Katzman, Lampert & Stoll is leading the fight to stop aircraft manufacturers in their attempt to evade all liability for the faulty design and manufacture of aircraft that cause a crash.

Aircraft Manufacturers Want Immunity from Lawsuits for Their Negligent Design and Manufacture That Cause an Aircraft to Crash

Airplane manufacturers have banded together in an effort to avoid liability and legal responsibility for the negligent design and manufacture of their aircraft, whether it is a small general aviation aircraft, such as a Cessna, Piper, Cirrus, Mooney or Beechcraft, or a large Transport Category aircraft, including airliners built by Boeing, Airbus and McDonnell Douglas. Katzman, Lampert & Stoll is at the forefront of the fight to prevent this injustice.

Federal Preemption versus State Law Standards of Care and Remedies

Relying on a legal doctrine known as “federal preemption” aircraft manufacturers claim that state law tort remedies, that have existed for over seventy years, should be extinguished to prevent victims of crashes from recovering fair and just compensation from manufacturers that negligently cause a crash. The aircraft manufacturers assert that traditional state law remedies are extinguished by federal preemption because the manufacturers cannot unilaterally change the design of their aircraft; they must first obtain authorization from the Federal Aviation administration.

The General Aviation Revitalization Act of 1994 (GARA) and the Enabling Language of the Federal Aviation Act Establish Congress’ Intent to Preserve State Law Remedies

The manufacturers’ assertion of federal preemption is contradicted by the General Aviation Revitalization Act of 1994 (GARA), which imposes an eighteen years statute of repose, and by the Federal Aviation Act, which contains a clause that expressly preserves state law remedies. Had Congress wanted to preempt the field of aviation product liability and negligence claims, it had the opportunity to do so when it considered and rejected several overarching federal tort remedies in the early 1990s that were proposed to protect aircraft manufacturers that hold type certificates issued by the FAA. Rejecting those statutory schemes outright, Congress instead enacted the limited statute of repose contained in GARA.

Aircraft Manufacturers Effectively Issue their Own Type Certificate

To mass manufacture a specific model of aircraft, a manufacturer must first obtain a type certificate from the Federal Aviation Administration. However, almost all of the testing needed to obtain a type certificate from the FAA is actually performed by the manufacturers. The FAA only “spot checks” a manufacturer’s work. The actual “certification” is done by the FAA in name only. The certification of an aircraft by the FAA is almost always actually done by engineers employed by the manufacturers themselves. That’s right: the companies that design and manufacture aircraft literally self-certify their aircraft in the name of the FAA. The process of aircraft certification is a classic example of the fox watching the henhouse. And, yet, if courts adopt the legal doctrine of federal preemption as urged by the aircraft manufacturers, those manufacturers will be immune from lawsuits brought by the victims of airplane crashes.

Neither Implied (Field) Preemption or Conflict (Impossibility) Preemption Immunize Airplane Manufacturers

The two leading appellate decisions on the question of federal preemption in aviation product liability claims are from Sikkelee v AVCO Corporation, where Katzman, Lampert & Stoll represent the Plaintiff. In Sikkelee we have twice successfully argued in the federal courts that, first, federal preemption does not give immunity to aircraft manufacturers because Congress did not intend to create implied or field preemption for aviation product designs; and, second, that conflict preemption does not apply because it was not “impossible” for a manufacturer to change its design to make an aircraft engine safer where the FAA would have approved the change. To assert conflict preemption, a manufacturer must arguably establish that the FAA would not approve a change. These decisions are from the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, with certiorari to the United States Supreme Court denied in one case and pending in the other case. The battle is not over.

Expect and Prepare for a Preemption Challenge in all Aircraft Product Liability Cases Involving Negligent Aircraft Design and Manufacture

Plaintiffs’ lawyers representing victims of airplane crashes in product liability cases involving FAA type certificated aircraft should anticipate legal challenges to their clients’ claims based on implied and conflict predicated federal preemption. In the drop-down section of our firm’s website, under the heading Federal Preemption, are all of the motions, briefs and court opinions from the Sikkelee decisions. You are welcome to read and download these materials from our website.
Anticipating and then prevailing over a defense founded in implied field preemption or conflict impossibility preemption involves a complex legal battle that begins in the discovery process and progresses to briefing during motion practice. Requesting the necessary documents and obtaining the necessary deposition testimony requires detailed planning. We are available to answer your questions and help wherever and however we can.

Submitted by:

  • David Ian Katzman
  • Bruce Lampert
  • Brad Stoll

Document Downloads

Below you will find the Sikkelee (Federal Preemption) documents available for download

Click the document to view/download.

Implied Preemption

First Appeal

Conflict Preemption

Second Appeal


Airplane Crash Investigation

In-House Aviation Investigators

Airplane accident attorneys often include partners and attorneys who are well-versed in other, technical and aviation-related disciplines, including pilots and engineers. Our attorneys are no different. We have assembled a team of lawyers, pilots, and engineers who are often able to re-construct aviation accident scenarios in order to establish cause-and-effect, which is extremely helpful when litigating complex cases.

Investigating both commercial and commuter airplane and helicopter accidents, and litigation of injury cases resulting from those crashes, are what sets top aviation firms apart from less-focused firms. This is the primary reason so many attorneys refer aviation cases to Katzman Lampert & Stoll.

More about our in-house aviation investigation…

Tenacious Lawyers

Plane Crash Law & Public Service

Katzman Lampert & Stoll is proud to provide public service, as well as service to our clients and their families. Often for little or no fee, we help adjudicate complex cases and provide advice to lawmakers regarding aircraft safety legislation. We seek to improve airline safety, while achieving the best outcomes for those injured in aviation disasters and accidents.

Both our senior partners, David Katzman and Bruce Lampert, are frequently called on to lend their expertise toward the advancement and advocacy of aircraft and aviation safety products and manufacturing upgrades. To this end, many of their articles and reports have been published in journals and online. They have also been called on to testify before both houses of the US congress regarding important airline safety legislation.

Katzman Lampert & Stoll
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Katzman Lampert & Stoll
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Katzman Lampert & Stoll
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Phone: (610) 686-9686
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