Alabama Court Bars Lawsuit in Oklahoma Airplane Crash

By TIM TALLEY | July 15, 2013

Alabama’s highest court ruled Friday that a lawsuit involving a deadly 2005 Oklahoma airplane crash is time-barred and must be dismissed.

The decision by the Alabama Supreme Court involves the second of two lawsuits filed in that state over the July 24, 2005, crash of a twin-engine airplane in Ada, Okla., that killed three members of a prominent Oklahoma family.

Those who died were Harland Brent Stonecipher, a pilot for a company then known as Pre-Paid Legal Services, Inc.; his wife, Tina Lynn Stonecipher; and their 11-year-old daughter, Nicole Ann Stonecipher. Pre-Paid Legal Services is now known as LegalShield.

Representatives of the victims filed a wrongful death and defective product lawsuit in Circuit Court in Mobile, Ala., in 2007 alleging that the cause of the crash was a defective crankshaft in the aircraft’s right engine. The engine was manufactured by Teledyne Continental Motors of Mobile, according to court documents.

A report by the National Transportation Safety Board, which investigated the crash, says both of the aircraft’s engines were examined at Continental’s manufacturing facility in Mobile on Aug. 17, 2005, less than a month after the crash.

Investigators found that several teeth on the engine’s camshaft “were broken, ground down and/or missing,” seven teeth were completely sheared off the crankshaft and 14 others were partially sheared off, the report says.

“Examination of the components revealed the crankshaft gear failed due to a fatigue fracture in one of the teeth,” the report says. The examination indicated the microstructure of the gear was inadequate and more tests were conducted, but investigators were unable to produce a similar crankshaft failure.

Continental spent almost $5 million to defend and ultimately settle the 2007 lawsuit, according to the Alabama Supreme Court’s decision. It then filed a second lawsuit in 2011 against the gear manufacturers to recover its legal and settlement costs. Continental alleged that the defective crankshaft did not meet the specifications it provided for fabrication and heat treatment of the gear.

The crankshaft manufacturer filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, arguing that it was barred by Alabama’s two-year statute of limitations. A judge disagreed, however, ruling that a different six-year state of limitations that covers contract claims should apply.

The Supreme Court ruled that the two-year limit applied and remanded the case to the Circuit Court judge with orders to dismiss the lawsuit.

Mike Gifford, director of factory services for Continental, declined comment on the ruling.

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