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Supreme Court of the United States
October 13, 1987, Argued ; June 27, 1988, Decided
[*502] [***451] [**2513] JUSTICE SCALIA delivered the opinion of the Court.
This case requires us to decide when a contractor providing military equipment to the Federal Government can be held liable under state tort law for injury caused by a design defect.
On April 27, 1983, David A. Boyle, a United States Marine helicopter copilot, was killed when the CH-53D helicopter in which he was flying crashed off the coast of Virginia Beach, Virginia, during a training exercise. Although Boyle survived the impact of the crash, he was unable to escape from the helicopter and drowned. Boyle's father, petitioner here, brought this diversity action in Federal District Court against the Sikorsky Division of United Technologies Corporation (Sikorsky), which built the helicopter for the United States.
[*503] [***452] At trial, petitioner presented two theories of liability under Virginia tort law that were submitted to the jury. First, petitioner alleged that Sikorsky had defectively repaired a device called the servo in the helicopter's automatic flight control system, which allegedly malfunctioned and caused the crash. Second, petitioner alleged that Sikorsky had defectively designed the copilot's emergency escape system: the escape hatch opened out instead of in (and was therefore ineffective in a submerged craft because of water pressure), and access to the escape hatch handle was obstructed by other equipment. The jury returned a general verdict in favor of petitioner and awarded him $ 725,000. The District Court denied Sikorsky's motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict.
The Court of Appeals reversed and remanded with directions that judgment be entered for Sikorsky. 792 F. 2d 413 (CA4 1986). It found, as a matter of Virginia law, that Boyle had failed to meet his burden of demonstrating that the repair work performed by Sikorsky, as opposed to work that had been done by the Navy, was responsible for the alleged malfunction of the flight control system. Id., at 415-416. It also found, as a matter of federal law, that [**2514] Sikorsky could not be held liable for the allegedly defective design of the escape hatch because, on the evidence presented, it satisfied the requirements of the "military contractor defense," which the court had recognized the same day in Tozer v. LTV Corp., 792 F. 2d 403 (CA4 1986). 792 F. 2d, at 414-415.
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487 U.S. 500 *; 108 S. Ct. 2510 **; 101 L. Ed. 2d 442 ***; 1988 U.S. LEXIS 2880 ****; 56 U.S.L.W. 4792; CCH Prod. Liab. Rep. P11,830; 34 Cont. Cas. Fed. (CCH) P75,489
BOYLE, PERSONAL REPRESENTATIVE OF THE HEIRS AND ESTATE OF BOYLE v. UNITED TECHNOLOGIES CORP.
Subsequent History: Reargued April 27, 1988.
On remand at, Remanded by, Motion denied by Boyle v. United Techs. Corp., 857 F.2d 1468, 1988 U.S. App. LEXIS 10936 (4th Cir. Va., 1988)
Prior History: CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE FOURTH CIRCUIT.
Boyle v. United Techs. Corp., 792 F.2d 413, 1986 U.S. App. LEXIS 25322 (4th Cir. Va., 1986)
Disposition: 792 F. 2d 413, vacated and remanded.
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