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Trans States Airlines v. Pratt & Whitney Canada

November 21, 1997

TRANS STATES AIRLINES, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,

v.

PRATT & WHITNEY CANADA, INC., DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division.

No. 92 C 1658--Ruben Castillo, Judge.

Before COFFEY, DIANE P. WOOD, and EVANS, Circuit Judges.

DIANE P. WOOD, Circuit Judge.

Submitted June 19, 1997

Decided November 21, 1997

Trans States Airlines began this suit in 1992 with a complaint in the Northern District of Illinois against Pratt & Whitney Canada, Inc., seeking damages that arose from the July 17, 1991, catastrophic failure of the left engine (manufactured by Pratt & Whitney) on an aircraft Trans States was leasing, as the airplane approached the Greater Peoria Airport in Illinois. Fortunately, the pilot was able to regain control of the plane and to land safely, but the engine failure resulted in damage to the engine itself and to the airframe in which it was housed. In addition, two passengers suffered minor personal injuries, and Trans States lost revenues from canceled flights. Trans States relied on three theories in its complaint: (1) negligence, (2) breach of warranty, and (3) strict liability.

Pratt & Whitney moved for summary judgment, claiming that the Illinois economic loss doctrine barred recovery by Trans States. Two different district judges rejected that argument. See Trans States Airlines v. Pratt & Whitney Canada, Inc., 836 F. Supp. 541 (N.D. Ill. 1993) (Kocoras, J.); Trans States Airlines v. Pratt & Whitney Canada, Inc., 875 F. Supp. 522 (N.D. Ill. 1995) (Castillo, J.). Judge Castillo, however, certified the following question to this court under 28 U.S.C. sec. 1292(b):

[W]hether PWC's gas turbine engine and the Aerospatiale airframe were an integrated unit of the Trans States airplane, under the economic loss doctrine set forth in the Supreme Court's decision in East River S.S. Corp. v. TransAmerica Delaval, Inc., 476 U.S. 858 (1986).

We agreed that the scope of Illinois's economic loss doctrine was a "controlling question of law as to which there is substantial ground for difference of opinion," in the words of sec. 1292(b), and that immediate appeal was likely materially to affect the ultimate disposition of the case, and we therefore accepted the appeal. Upon further consideration, we decided also that Illinois law, which all agree governs here, was sufficiently uncertain that we should seek guidance from the Illinois Supreme Court under that Court's certification procedure. See Ill. Sup. Ct. R. 20. We did so, explaining our decision in an opinion published at 86 F.3d 725 (7th Cir. 1996).

The Illinois Supreme Court agreed to decide the certified questions presented in our opinion, which it summarized as follows:

(1) For purposes of the economic loss doctrine, as developed by the Illinois Supreme Court in Moorman Manufacturing Co. v. National Tank Co., 91 Ill.2d 69, 61 Ill. Dec. 746, 435 N.E.2d 443 (1982) and its progeny, does Illinois recognize a "sudden and calamitous occurrence" exception to the doctrine under which recovery in tort is possible for injury to the single product?

(2) Can a product and one of its component parts ever constitute two separate products?

(3) Did the airframe and the engine that failed in this case constitute a single product or two distinct products? Trans States Airlines v. Pratt & Whitney Canada, Inc., 682 N.E.2d 45, 46 (Ill. 1997) (brackets in original omitted).

In the balance of this opinion, we assume familiarity with both our decision certifying these questions to the Illinois Supreme Court and that Court's opinion answering the ...


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