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Jarmuth v. Aldridge

March 30, 2001

JEFFREY JARMUTH, ADM'R OF THE ESTATE OF MICHAEL GAROFALO, DECEASED, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
KENNETH W. ALDRIDGE, INDIV., AND KENNETH W. ALDRIDGE, D/B/A KWA LEASING, INC., AN ILLINOIS CORPORATION, AND UTILITY LEASING, INC., AN ILLINOIS CORPORATION, DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES (COVINGTON AIRCRAFT ENGINES, INC., AN OKLAHOMA CORPORATION; MAYNARD & MAYNARD AIRCRAFT CARBURETOR COMPANY, INC.; SUNSHINE AIRCRAFT REPAIR, INC.; COVINGTON AIRCRAFT ENGINES, INC., N/K/A ABBOTT INDUSTRIES, INC.; A AND L AIRCRAFT PARTS, INC.; PAUL ABBOTT AND JEFFREY R. ABBOTT, INDIV. AND D/B/A ABBOTT AIRCRAFT SERVICES, DEFENDANTS).



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. No. 95 L 13208 Honorable Alfred J. Paul, Judge Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice O'brien

Plaintiff, Jeffrey Jarmuth, appeals the entry of summary judgment in favor of defendants Kenneth W. Aldridge, doing business as KWA Leasing, who was also sued as Utility Leasing (collectively, the Aldridge defendants), on plaintiff's negligence claim arising out of an airplane crash, which resulted in the death of the pilot, Michael Garofalo (decedent), and his passenger, Vito Garofalo.

Summary judgment is appropriate where the pleadings, depositions, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, demonstrate that there is no issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. 735 ILCS 5/2- 1005(c) (West 1998). A reviewing court applies a de novo standard of review. Outboard Marine Corp. v. Liberty Mutual Insurance Co., 154 Ill. 2d 90, 102 (1992).

The relevant facts are undisputed. Decedent and Vito Garofalo were killed in an airplane accident on July 28, 1994, in Racine, Wisconsin. The plane was a restored World War II vintage Vultee BT 13-A training aircraft owned by the Aldridge defendants and piloted by decedent.

Several years prior to the accident, decedent and James Skinner, employees of Waukegan Aero, Ltd. (WAL), found the Vultee in pieces in a barn in South Carolina. WAL purchased the salvaged parts and transported them to WAL's facilities where WAL's employees began the restoration process. KWA Leasing, Inc., purchased the Vultee from WAL in 1990. Thereafter WAL sent the Vultee's engine to Covington Aircraft Engines, Inc. (Covington), in pieces for an overhaul. Covington completed the engine overhaul and it was installed. WAL then performed a final restoration inspection and certified the Vultee as airworthy on May 11, 1992. Following an annual inspection, WAL again certified the Vultee as airworthy on June 4, 1993.

In June 1994, Kenneth Aldridge discovered a fuel leak from the Vultee's engine compartment and contacted Howard Siedlecki, a licensed mechanic working for Sunshine Aircraft Repair, to determine the cause of the leak and to repair it. Siedlecki examined the Vultee and discovered the fuel leak was the result of a cracked fitting that goes into the carburetor. Kenneth Aldridge told Siedlecki to repair the leak. Siedlecki removed the carburetor from the Vultee and attempted to effect the necessary repair but encountered difficulties when the carburetor threads came out of the carburetor along with the cracked fitting. Siedlecki, who did not feel competent to repair the carburetor threads, contacted Covington about the problem and was instructed to send the carburetor to Maynard & Maynard for repair work.

Maynard overhauled the carburetor, performed a water leak test on the carburetor float, certified the carburetor float as airworthy, affixed the appropriate maintenance release tag to the carburetor, and shipped the part back to Sunshine Aircraft Repair. Siedlecki then reinstalled the part, performed the Vultee's annual inspection as required by Federal Aviation Association (FAA) regulations, and certified the aircraft as airworthy on July 25, 1994. Three days later, the plane crashed while decedent was flying it to OshKosh, Wisconsin, where it was to be sold.

Plaintiff's complaint alleged, inter alia, that the Aldridge defendants had a non-delegable duty to ensure the Vultee was airworthy, that the Aldridge defendants breached this duty when they failed to personally inspect the Vultee after it had already been inspected by a FAA-certified mechanic, and that this failure caused the death of decedent because a defect in the carburetor float allowed fuel to enter the mechanism causing the Vultee to crash. The issue is whether the facts and the law, when construed strictly against the Aldridge defendants and liberally in favor of plaintiff, create a duty to ensure the Vultee was airworthy, which could not be delegated to another.

Section 424 of the Restatement (Second) of Torts (1965) provides:

"One who by statute or by administrative regulation is under a duty to provide specified safeguards or precautions for the safety of others is subject to liability *** for harm caused by the failure of a contractor employed by him to provide such safeguards or precautions."

FAA regulations impose certain duties upon owners of aircraft to ensure the safety of others. Section 121.363 provides:

"(a) Each certificate holder is primarily responsible for-

(1) The airworthiness of its aircraft, including airframes, aircraft engines, propellers, appliances, and parts thereof; and

(2) The performance of maintenance, preventative maintenance, and alteration of its aircraft, including airframes, aircraft engines, propellers, appliances, emergency equipment, and parts thereof, in ...


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