Carter Newell’s May 20141 and March 20152 newsletters canvassed the Queensland Supreme and Court of Appeal decisions in the matter of Graham McDermott & Ors -ats- Robinson Helicopter Company Incorporated (RHC).3

Readers will recall:

  • The primary judgement found the RHC was neither negligent nor in breach of the consumer protection provisions set out under the Trade Practices Act 1974 (Cth) (TPA) in regards to periodic inspection procedure instructions set out in the R-22 maintenance manual; and
  • The Court of Appeal overturned the primary judgment finding instead that the RHC maintenance manual did not provide adequate guidance to Licensed Aircraft Maintenance Engineers (LAMEs) performing periodic inspections. Following the Court of Appeal’s decision, RHC filed a Special Leave Application (Application) with the Australian High Court. The Application was heard on 16 October 2015 before Justices Kiefel and Gordon.4

At the Application, Counsel for RHC5 contended the Court of Appeal erred in two respects:

  • Firstly, it overturned important findings of fact made by the trial judge about the absence of a torque stripe without any proper basis to have done so;6 and
  • Secondly, the majority did not consider the evidence presented at trial7 about whether the absence of certain directions in the maintenance manual either directly or indirectly caused the failure which lead to the subject helicopter crash. RHC argued that despite having not considered this evidence, the majority proceeded to make a determination in favour of McDermott in both tort and the TPA.8

Counsel for McDermott9 disputed RHC’s contention that the relationship between the cause of the accident and the absence of certain directions in the maintenance manual was an issue during the Court of Appeal hearing.

Counsel for McDermott argued this matter is one where:

‘specialist and highly trained aircraft mechanics are involved and who regard each aircraft maintenance manual as though it is to be followed to the letter’.10

Despite having followed the maintenance manual to the letter, the maintenance manual lacked the requisite directions to enable the LAMEs to detect the defect that existed in the helicopter and as a result the subject helicopter crash ensued.11

The Court granted RHC’s request for a grant of special leave in this matter with the parties estimating it will be heard (some time in early 2016) by the High Court over the course of two days.12 Carter Newell will continue to monitor developments in relation to this matter and will report further on the outcome of the High Court hearing in due course.

In the meantime, the ongoing litigation of this matter serves to highlight for manufacturers the importance of ensuring all manuals associated with aircraft provide not only clear and concise instructions, but also instructions which accord, where appropriate, with industry practice.

Finally, for those involved in the provision of maintenance services to the aviation industry, this case continues to affirm the importance of following the instructions set out in the maintenance manual without deviation and provides ongoing insight into the court’s expectations of LAMEs involved in the provision of aircraft maintenance services.