United States: District Court Holds Contractor Not Liable For Army Helicopter Pilot's Paralysis And Confirms Continuing Viability Of Government Contractor Defense

In Linfoot v. McDonnell Douglas Helicopter Co., the United States District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee granted McDonnell Douglas Helicopter Co.'s ("MDHC") motion for summary judgment dismissing failure to warn claims arising out of the crash of an AH-6M model helicopter being piloted by Gary Linfoot during a mission south of Baghdad, Iraq. The court's decision provides an interesting analysis of failure to warn claims, and also reaffirms the continuing vitality of the government contractor defense.

Gary Linfoot was permanently paralyzed when an AH-6M model helicopter he was piloting crashed during a mission south of Baghdad, Iraq. While not a cause of the accident itself, Mr. Linfoot's injuries allegedly were exacerbated by the installation of a voice warning system ("VWS") in the crush box below his pilot seat, which lessened the crush box's ability to absorb the ground impact. The VWS installation was part of the Army's Mission Enhanced Little Bird ("MELB") reconfiguration program, which entailed converting the Army's MD-369FF/D model helicopters into an entirely new model, the "M" or MELB configuration.

McDonnell Douglas Helicopter Company neither manufactured the VWS in question nor selected its location in the helicopter; the location within the crush box was selected by the Army's Special Operations Aviation Regiment ("SOAR"). Nevertheless, Mr. Linfoot and his wife commenced litigation in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee against MDHC alleging that it should have warned the Army that putting anything, including the VWS, inside the crush box would diminish the crush box's efficacy. Linfoot v. McDonnell Douglas Helicopter Co., Case No. 3:09-cv-00639 (M.D. Ten. 2016).

MDHC contracted with the Army to supply MELB "kits" and to test the kits' component parts. The kits provided by MDHC did not include the VWS's (they were provided by Specialty Enterprises, Ltd.), although MDHC did correspond with the Army about the importance of including a VWS in the MELB configuration. The Army specifically limited the scope of the flight tests performed by MDHC, contracting with MDHC to test only the functionality of the VWS, not to assess its location. Although MDHC was not hired to assess the location of the VWS, there was undisputed testimony that an MDHC representative verbally recommended against installing the VWS in the crush box. The Army never claimed that MDHC violated either contract.

On MDHC's motion for summary judgment, the only issue before the court was whether "MDHC breached its duty of reasonable care to Plaintiffs with respect to the 'design, manufacture, assembly, inspection, distribution, ... modification, [and] overhaul ... of the subject helicopter and its component parts, including ... the pilot's seat and component parts, and equipment under or about the pilot's seat' and that this breach was a proximate cause of Mr. Linfoot's injuries." MDHC argued that summary judgment was appropriate because:

1. Plaintiffs failed to present sufficient evidence that MDHC's involvement with the MELB process and alleged failure to warn was a proximate cause of Mr. Linfoot's injuries;

2. Plaintiffs' claims were non-justiciable and/or preempted by the combatant activities exception to the Federal Tort Claims Act;1 and

3. Regardless of any duty to warn, MDHC was shielded from liability by the government contractor defense.

Failure to Warn

To prevail on the failure to warn claim, the plaintiffs bore the burden of proving that MDHC had a duty to warn, that its warnings were inadequate, and that the inadequate warnings were a proximate cause of Mr. Linfoot's injuries.

Plaintiffs argued that MDHC's provision of the MELB kits gave rise to a duty to warn the Army that its own design was unsafe, and that the Army's redesign of these helicopters after the accident evidenced that a pre-accident warning would have elicited a similar design change prior to the accident. The court was unpersuaded that the post-accident design change demonstrated that a pre-accident warning would have elicited a change. To the contrary, there was evidence that an MDHC mechanic did warn the Army of the dangers of putting something in the crush box and the Army did nothing in response. The court also was unpersuaded by Plaintiffs' argument that this verbal warning was insufficient because it was not in writing, and because MDHC did not formally classify the VWS location as a hazard. Finally, the court agreed with MDHC that:

1. Common sense would dictate against putting something in the crush box, the very purpose of which is to take up space, indicating that a warning should not have been needed;

2. The Army's express limitations on the scope of MDHC's testing evidenced that a warning would not have brought about a design change (i.e., the Army wanted to avoid setting a precedent of having a contractor review and approve its designs/modifications); and

3. The Army's rigorous design and approval process provided little room for MDHC to suggest design changes or for the Army to implement any such suggestions.

Accordingly, the court held that Plaintiffs could not make out a prima facie failure to warn claim and that MDHC was entitled to summary judgment on that claim.

Government Contractor Defense

Notwithstanding its holding that summary judgment should be granted on the failure to warn claim, the Court also addressed and agreed with MDHC's argument that, even if Plaintiffs could prove causation due to failure to warn, MDHC would be shielded from liability by the government contractor defense. This defense, articulated in Boyle v. United Technologies Corp., 487 U.S. 500 (1988), is derived from the government's immunity from suit for the performance of a discretionary function. The Supreme Court determined in Boyle that the selection of an appropriate design for military equipment is a discretionary function. The government's immunity for that discretionary function has been extended to contractors that supply goods to the government.

The government contractor defense provides that "a government contractor may assert immunity when the government approved 'reasonably precise' specifications; the equipment conformed to those specifications; and the supplier/ contractor warned of those equipment dangers that were known to the supplier/contractor, but not the government." While noting that somewhat different factors generally apply in failure to warn cases, the district court held that the traditional Boyle factors were most appropriately applied here because the allegations were that MDHC failed to warn the Army itself, unlike the typical failure to warn case alleging that the contractor failed to provide a proper warning to the equipment users.

Applying the traditional Boyle analysis, the court found that the first two factors were readily met because (1) the design specification at issue—the location of the VWS—was generated by the government, and (2) no one disputed that the VWS was installed by another contractor in accordance with the Army's design. With regard to the third factor (the requirement that the contractor warn of dangers known to it but not the government), MDHC submitted expert evidence demonstrating that the Army was aware of the importance of protecting the space within the crush box. The policy rationale for this third factor—avoiding an incentive for the manufacturer to withhold knowledge of risks because providing a warning might disrupt the contract while withholding it would produce no liability—did not apply because MDHC had nothing to do with the manufacture or installation of the VWS and, therefore, had no incentive to withhold information about the dangers of installing it in the crush box. Accordingly, the court held that this third factor also was satisfied and that MDHC was entitled to summary judgment under the government contractor defense.

The court's government contractor defense holding serves as a reaffirmation of the defense's viability in cases against contractors that arise out of accidents involving military aircraft.


1 This issue ultimately was not addressed by the Court.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

In association with
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of www.mondaq.com

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about Mondaq.com’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.


Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.


Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to unsubscribe@mondaq.com with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.


A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.


If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.


This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to webmaster@mondaq.com.

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to EditorialAdvisor@mondaq.com.

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at enquiries@mondaq.com.

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at problems@mondaq.com and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.