Update on F-22 Raptor Wrongful Death Suit
Previously I reported Anna Haney’s wrongful death suit against Boeing, Honeywell, Lockheed Martin and Pratt & Whitney. Her suit arises from the tragic death of her husband, the late Air Force Captain Jeffrey Haney. The Captain tragically died in the November 2010 crash of his F-22 Raptor fighter jet.
The defendants to the suit describe the F-22 as the “Air Force’s premier air to air combat and attack aircraft”. They claim the accident occurred when the aircraft “hit the ground at supersonic speed after an unsuccessful dive recovery attempt”.
Mrs. Haney’s suit papers claim that The Air Force Accident Investigation Board Report on the crash concluded that the Onboard Oxygen Generating System (“OBOGS”) of the aircraft, allegedly designed and manufactured by Honeywell and integrated into the aircraft by Boeing, stopped providing him with breathable oxygen.
The suit alleges that the Raptor’s life support system systems and engine bleed air systems were defectively designed and manufactured, in that they “did not safely or properly provide breathable oxygen to the pilot operating the aircraft”. Mrs. Haney claims that the defendants failed to “design, manufacture, distribute and sell the F-22 Raptor aircraft with a “safe and reliable method to supply the pilot with oxygen that was free of harmful contaminants and compounds”. She brings the suit under theories of products liability, negligence, breach of warranty, breach of contract, and fraud.
The defendants have made their opening moves in what will likely be a lengthy and difficult case. Their first action was to remove the case from state to federal court in Chicago. The decision to do so is not surprising, as federal court is generally believed to be a more favorable venue to defend major product liability cases. The decision is frequently made based on the judge that is assigned to hear the case in state court. For example, if a defendant believes that the state court judge assigned to the case is plaintiff-oriented, then it will strongly consider removing the case to federal court. But this can backfire. In large cities there is typically a pool of federal judges, to whom cases are randomly assigned. The removed case may land in the court of a more “favorable” judge, or it may not. Clearly the defendants in this case believe that their odds of a successful defense are better in federal court.
Not all lawsuits can be removed from state to federal court. Certain narrow criteria must be met. Here, the defendants claimed entitlement to move the case from state to federal court because:
1. The suit was brought against companies “acting under an officer of the United States”; that is, the Air Force. Further, they are asserting various “federal defenses”, including the Government Contractor Defense, the State Secrets Doctrine, the Political Question Doctrine and the Defense Production Act; and,
2. The accident occurred on a federally owned public land in Alaska.
In response, Mrs. Haney has filed a motion asking the federal judge to send the case back to state court (a Motion to Remand). She argues that federal law is not involved and that her suit makes only state law claims of strict liability, negligence, breach of warranty, breach of contract and fraud.
The defendants next filed a Motion to Dismiss the case, arguing that Mrs. Haney failed to (1) describe the acts of fraud she alleges with sufficient detail (2) failed to distinguish the various components supplied by each defendant and (3) failed to describe how defendants acts allegedly caused the accident. Essentially, the defendants claim, Mrs. Haney’s 152 page complaint did not contain enough detail and “fails to put enough meat on the bones of her claims to present a right to relief”. In spite of this unfortunate language, the Motion to Dismiss is a serious effort to shut the suit down before it ever really begins. Mrs. Haney will undoubtedly file her response shortly.
This case will be a classic battle of a seasoned, well-financed plaintiff’s firm doing battle against several equally skilled, and well financed, defendants and teams of attorneys.