Knowledge of the Law
Is No Excuse
A PIPER CHEROKEE airplane took off from an airport in Eugene, Oregon, with a student at the controls and Terry Littschwager, a qualified instructor, as copilot. Douglas Wilson and Arbie MacDonald were passengers. The plane crashed in the Cascade Mountains, and everyone but Littschwager died.
Surviving spouses Donna Wilson and Beverly MacDonald sued the Piper Aircraft Corporation, claiming defective design of the plane. Its engine had failed, they argued, because ice had formed in the carburetor. A better designed engine would have used a fuel injector instead. Piper pointed out that its plane's design had been fully approved by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA); over 80 percent of planes of similar size also used carburetors rather than fuel injectors. A jury nevertheless returned large verdicts for the plaintiffs.
The Oregon Supreme Court reviewed the case and issued a lengthy opinion. The court conceded, at the outset, "special problems in the nature, and necessary proof, of a 'defect' in a product which reaches the consumer in precisely the condition intended by the designer/manufacturer." The