Van's Aircraft Sued for $35 Million over RV-10 Crash

The family of a 4-year old girl and her mother are suing kit maker Van's Aircraft over the death of the girl and injuries to the mother sustained in the May 2014 crash of an RV-10 built by the girl's step-grandfather. The family is asking for $35 Million in damages.

The NTSB investigation determined that the crash occurred because of "a total loss of engine power due to fuel starvation because of a blocked fuel line that resulted from the pilot’s improper maintenance practices and the pilot’s subsequent failure to maintain adequate airspeed while attempting a forced landing, which led to the airplane exceeding its critical angle-of-attack and experiencing an aerodynamic stall."

Fuel line pried open. (Photo: NTSB)
Fuel line pried open. (Photo: NTSB)

The summary of the report describes the accident scenario, and the reason for the loss of engine power:

"The pilot, who was also the builder of the experimental kit airplane, departed for a cross-country flight from his home airport. The passenger reported that, following a normal departure, the airplane continued the takeoff climb through some cloud wisps and ascended above a lower cloud cover with an overcast layer above. Suddenly, the engine experienced a total loss of power. The pilot maneuvered the airplane toward the closest airport, but, when he realized that the airplane would not be able to glide to the airport, he attempted to make an off-airport landing. The airplane stalled and then collided with terrain in an open area of a paper mill. Ground scar analysis and wreckage fragmentation revealed that the airplane descended in a steep, near-vertical, nose-down, left-wing-down attitude before it impacted terrain. The pilot installed a fuel flow transducer about 2 to 3 weeks before the accident and used heavy applications of room temperature vulcanization (RTV) silicone to seal the fuel lines. A friend of the pilot, who was also a mechanic, reported that he had observed the pilot about a year earlier using heavy applications of RTV silicone to seal parts during a condition inspection and that he had mentioned to the pilot that this was an improper practice. A bead of RTV silicone was found in the fuel line, and it is likely that it blocked the inlet of the transducer and starved the engine of fuel. Additionally, subsequent to the loss of engine power, the pilot failed to maintain sufficient airspeed while maneuvering to locate a suitable off-airport landing site and flew the airplane beyond its critical angle-of-attack, which resulted in a stall and loss of airplane control. "

The brief for the suit states that "Van's Aircraft exploits an FAA loophole for 'experimental' planes - also known as 'homebuilt' or 'amateur-built' planes. The suit goes on to state that "the FAA doesn't require the same rigorous testing for homebuilt airplanes as it does for professionally built planes." Furthermore, the suit states that" Van's recklessly sells its aircraft kits to ordinary consumers by ensuring them that even though those consumers are deemed the 'builder' of the aircraft, they do not need any experience or special knowledge to safely assemble the aircraft, but can safely assemble the aircraft by following Van's detailed assembly plans and utilizing Van's support."

The Experimental - Amateur Built category has been part of the FAA's regulatory structure since the 1950's, and more than 30,000 aircraft have been certified using the rules since that time. Van's Aircraft sells a line of kits ranging from the single-seat RV-3 to the four-seat RV-10, and has records indicating that more than 9,000 airplanes have been completed and flown from the kits they have sold.

Van's Aircraft has not commented on the suit, citing the pending litigation.

Download the NTSB photographic evidence from the post-crash investigation.

Read the full narrative by the NTSB.

RTV bead in reference to the transducer inlet. (Photo: NTSB)
RTV bead in reference to the transducer inlet. (Photo: NTSB)

Paul Dye

Paul Dye, Kitplanes® Editor in Chief, retired as a Lead Flight Director for NASA’s Human Space Flight program, with 40 years of aerospace experience on everything from Cubs to the space shuttle. An avid homebuilder, he began flying and working on airplanes as a teen, and has experience with a wide range of construction techniques and materials. He flies an RV-8 that he built, an RV-3 that he built with his pilot wife, as well as a Dream Tundra they completed. Currently, they are building a Xenos motorglider. A commercially licensed pilot, he has logged over 5000 hours in many different types of aircraft and is an A&P, EAA Tech Counselor, and Flight Advisor, as well as a member of the Homebuilder’s Council. He consults and collaborates in aerospace operations and flight-testing projects across the country.

22 Replies to “Van's Aircraft Sued for $35 Million over RV-10 Crash”

  1. I am so tired of people blaming somebody else for their stupidity!
    Esp after his friend told him it is bad practice.
    There are aircraft systems which are recognised and not kept public as a secrets. Maybe Darwin was right! Sorry Bud...

  2. Vans should start a kickstarter for the league fees and we should all contribute as much as possible to get the best attorney money can buy to kill this.

  3. If this goes to trial it all depends on where it is tried and the type of jury. I witnessed a crash in the lat 1980's where a plane five years out of annual inspection and an unlicensed pilot cost the aircraft manufacturer several million dollars for a 20 year old aircraft.

  4. How badly tort reform is needed! There is no predictability in law because the legal system allows virtually anything to be litigated, even in the absence of fault or statute violation. Of course lawyers love this. Big shakedowns enrich them at the expense of our economy and freedoms. And since congress is mostly lawyers, it's not surprising tort reform hasn't happened.

    In this case, Vans sells a perfectly legal product, and the fault was with the owner. Yet, with ever expanding theories of liability, even the most innocent party has no certainty. Far from it. Vague notions, playing on emotion rather than any well defined law, are used to justify these suits. And the amounts asked for settlement are beyond outrageous.

  5. My wife and I have been recipient of a frivolous suit taken on by a no cure no fee lawyer for a basically bankrupt individual. $700,000 later, their case collapsed with the judge sighting she was the worst witness he had seen in 25 years. Yet we were not allowed to try to recover costs from this legal firm who caused the mystery. This is not the case in the UK and plays a greta part in limiting such practices. Some lawyers are great, some are mere pond life.

  6. Really outrageous, both the suit itself and the amount claimed. As for the suit, Vans is a legal high quality product. The so called Amateur Built Experimental FAA “loophole”, as the plaintiff calls it, is a well established legal provision of long standing. Quite simply, ITS THE LAW. If the plaintiffs dont like the law, they can try to change it. And the court, if actually following the law, is obligated to dismiss this case. Because Vans products are legal, and no mfgr. defect was part of the accident. The problem with so many injury lawsuits is that the law is NOT followed. Instead, the plaintiff attorneys get a jury trial, and uses emotion to get a judgement. The judges are not following the law either, when they allow these type of suits to proceed. Maybe these judges can be called out for legal malpractice.

    By the standard of the plaintiff, NO industry can long survive. That is, any company selling a legal product without defect, can still be sued for absurd amounts. Even "winning" such a suit can put a company out of business.

    Lawyers, politicians, bureaucrats--- destroying America one industry at a time.

  7. It does appear from the article that Van's is not legally liable for damages but in all fairness we the readers probably don't have all the facts based on a few paragraphs. Take the famous McDonald's hot coffee lawsuit where the jury awarded millions of dollars. I was outraged at the size of the award. A few weeks ago I saw a documentary about the incident on Netflix. I guess you could say I did a full 180 in my opinion about as fast as you could do it in a RV 8. I was outraged that the judge cut the jury's award by 80%.
    I personally feel that Van's manufactures the best Kit Plane in the world, I wish I could afford to build a RV 12. However that is not the issue here, a person's right to pursue justice through the courts without regards to opinion or bias is.
    As far as tort reform, watch the Documentary, you may find yourself doing a RV-8 180. I don't feel it is the Lawyers that are ruining America, it is what has ruined every successful society-greed and selflessness.
    This article has me rethinking my next project. Maybe a single seat. God Bless the Daughter and her family of this tragedy.

  8. @ Michael from what I read, I see little to justify the McDonalds lawsuit or settlement. The judge did the right thing IMO. Some that I have talked to about this say things like "but John, her injuries were terrible...." That is NOT a valid point. There is no necessary relationship between the severity of an injury, and culpability. An event with 0 culpability can lead to death, and often does. The issue is whether McDonalds broke a law or was negligent. There is no law or standard for the temperature of brewing coffee. I personally use boiling water, as many do. I have a book about coffee, and it states that the best temperature for brewing is near boiling. Further it is common knowledge that hot water can scald. This was a simple accident where someone spilled the hot water. What if she had spilled hot water at home from her stove? Who would she sue then? It was an opportunistic suit.
    In the present case, the amount of the suit is outrageous. It also should be understood that if the standard of this suit was widely accepted, no business could long survive. It would lead to financial ruin to even defend these suits, let alone lose. No company is perfect or ever will be. Nor will perfect safety ever be achieved. In this case Vans was selling a legal product, which had no defect. The owner improperly used the RTV. Yet Vans could be sued out of existence. What the suit calls an FAA " loophole", is a long standing provision for experimental aircraft. In short, IT IS THE LAW. Thus, if the plaintiffs don't like the law, they should try to change it. The suit is invalid on the so called "loophole" argument. You call any law don't like a "loophole". The way you seem to justify the Vans suit makes me suspect you are a shill for the plaintiffs.

  9. I think kit aircraft manufactures should not say that their kits are aircraft kits but instead call them race purifier machines that you can do anything you want with them including flying but their main purpose is remove stupid people from the gene pool.

  10. Thus continue's the death of personal responsibility in the USA. The pilot did a sh1tty job assembling the fuel system and horrible job piloting the aircraft in an emergency situation... then his family wants to sue the company that made the airframe? Good grief.

  11. I really hope the Judge throws out this case after an initial review of the facts on hand. In no way, shape, or form did the kit design or kit components CAUSE this completely preventable accident.

    The destruction of America is at hand if RISK is attempted to be removed from all business operations and personal activities. The builder and pilot of this RV aircraft clearly endangered himself/others in aspects of his ownership and piloting of his aircraft. If the owner/operator of the aircraft is not highlighted as the one liable I will be very disappointed. If this aircraft, in this situation, crashed on my house as a result of this event I would file a lawsuit and ONLY go after the pilot/kitplane owner for FULL LIABILITY!

  12. Back in the '80s, a local GA airport restaurant had a paper pictorial placemat of Arizona with 'highlights' shown as cartoon caricatures. A local new private pilot with very low flight time used that placemat in an attempt to navigate. Shouldn't surprise anyone he failed, crashed and was killed. The family sued the airport, claiming their publishing of an illegal navigation item was responsible. They lost. This is an example of terminal stupidity, right up there with fuel exhaustion being the fault of an FBO as the reason a pilot died after his engine quit. A lawsuit may be filed by "anyone" for "any reason." The filing itself is pasted all over the front page by an irresponsible media whose priority is to profit from the misery of mankind, but there's never any front page follow up to show how quickly something like that died before it started when a judge with true common sense throws it out in a heartbeat. The "story behind the headline" seldom sees the light of day, unless and until someone does their homework and puts the true results out there for others to see, such as the item about the McDonalds's coffee issue seen above. While I am personally sorry for any family's loss of a loved one, especially a child, the bottom line is you can't fix stupid.

  13. Dear lawyers that are suing van's aircraft, I will be filling legal papers against (lawsuit) your group for being just WAY to STUPID. The fact that a person can sue a company because of a member of the family not building a product properly is nuts. So I feel it is necessary to sue the lawyers, BECAUSE I CAN.

    Joe

  14. All the money in the world will not ease this careless man's fault in the death of his precious grand daughter. Any money gotten by the family from the guiltless party can never absolve the grandfather of the death he is guilty of. His irresponsibility killed the little girl, not Van's.

  15. You wonder how a suit like this can get through the courts but in truth it's because those scumbag lawyers we all despise, become JUDGES in due time if they have the right scumbag political backing. Double scumbag = Judge. There are probably some good judges but we all know there are some organized crime judges as well.

    Bottom line, a high priced lawyer probably has a judge on the down low, way under the table payroll. Snakes gonna be snakes.

  16. Situation
    A amateur built aircraft built to the best standards, flown by a extremely competent pilot carrying a friend in the back seat. After spending the day with peers at a flyin takes off and pulls up into zoom climb(showing his skills to the peer group watching) enters a stall/spin ending in a double fatality.
    Should the back seater's wife sue the pilot? or just walk away?
    Human nature ie peer group acceptance will over ride safe flying behavior. OK not the same as a designers culpability in the law suit mentioned in this story but if you were in that back seat would you want your wife/kids some compensation???

  17. Van's Aircraft offers excellent quality kits with premium technical support. It's the responsibility of the builder to to decide if he has the required competence to build an airplane. It's the lawyer which benefits form limitless claims not the plaintiff and it wrecks the industry.

  18. I was in the general aviation business (avionics) for 24 years, incidentally at the same airport where Van's Aircraft is located. Over the years we saw the effects of these lawsuits on the general aviation manufacturers. If some pilot got into weather he couldn't handle and flew into a mountainside and got killed, some slick lawyer would sue the OEM and claim there must have been a defect in the ship, and 12 people who knew nothing about aviation would award the family millions of dollars. It got so bad that a new Cessna 172 family plane's price was half liability insurance, and the manufactures mostly quit making them and concentrated on bizjets and the like. The small plane industry has never really recovered. No one can afford them any more.

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