AETNA Casualty & Surety Company, a Connecticut Corp.,
et al., Plaintiff-Appellees,
JEPPESEN & Company, a Colorado Corp., Defendant-Appellant.
642 F.2d 339 (9th Cir. 1981)
This appeal is taken from judgment granting Aetna Casualty and Surety Company indemnity from Jeppesen & Company for money paid by Aetna in settlement of wrongful death actions filed by representatives of passengers killed in a plane crash. We reverse.
On November 15, 1964, a Bonanza Airlines plane crashed in its approach to Las Vegas, Nevada, on a flight
from Phoenix, Arizona. All on board were killed. Wrongful death claims filed on behalf of the passengers were
settled by Bonanza, with Aetna as Bonanza's insurer paying to the extent of Bonanza's coverage.
Jeppesen publishes instrument approach charts to aid pilots in making instrument approaches to airports. Aetna
contends that the chart for the Las Vegas Airport was defective, and that product defect was the cause of the
crash. Asserting product liability on the part of Jeppesen, it brought this action in the District Court for the
District of Nevada as Bonanza's subrogee, seeking to recover from Jeppesen the sums it has paid in settlement of
the wrongful death claims. Following bench trial, the court found that the chart was defective; that the defect
was the proximate cause of the crash; that Bonanza was negligent in failing to discover the defect and alert its
pilots; and that the crew members were not negligent in relying on the defective chart. The court apportioned
damages between Bonanza and Jeppesen on the basis of its findings of comparative fault: 80 percent to Jeppesen
and 20 percent to Bonanza. It is from that judgment that Jeppesen has taken this appeal. ***
Finding Respecting Product Defect
Jeppesen contends that the record does not support the court's finding that the instrument approach chart was
Jeppesen approach charts depict graphically the instrument approach procedure for the particular airport as
that procedure has been promulgated by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) after testing and
administrative approval. The procedure includes all pertinent aspects of the approach such as directional heading,
distances, minimum altitudes, turns, radio frequencies and procedures to be followed if an approach is missed.
The specifications prescribed are set forth by the FAA in tabular form. Jeppesen acquires this FAA form and
portrays the information therein on a graphic approach chart. This is Jeppesen's "product." The parties do not
dispute that the information thus contained in Jeppesen's Las Vegas approach chart is in all respects accurate.
The defect, if any, is in the graphic presentation of that information.
Each chart portrays graphically two views of the proper approach. The top portion is the "plan" view, depicted
as if one were looking down on the approach segment of the flight from directly above. The bottom portion
depicts the "profile" view, presented as a side view of the approach with a descending line depicting the minimum
allowable altitudes as the approach progresses. The plan view is regarded as a superior method of presenting
course and course changes; the profile view as a superior method of presenting altitude and altitude changes.
Each chart thus conveys information in two ways: by words and numbers, and by graphics.
The plan view correctly shows the minimum altitude at a distance of 15 miles from the Las Vegas Airport as
6,000 feet. The profile view does not extend beyond three miles from the airport. Both plan and profile views
correctly show the minimum altitude at a distance of three miles from the airport as 3,100 feet. The "defect" in
the chart consists of the fact that the graphic depiction of the profile, which covers a distance of three miles from
the airport, appears to be drawn to the same scale as the graphic depiction of the plan, which covers a distance of
15 miles. In fact, although the views are the same size, the scale of the plan is five times that of the profile.
Aetna produced as witness an aviation psychologist, who testified that most Jeppesen approach charts have the
same or roughly the same scale for both plan and profile views; that a pilot and navigator would come to take
this for granted, and, when faced with the Las Vegas chart would assume that the altitude shown on the profile
as proper for three miles distant would, reading it as drawn to the same scale as the plan, be proper for 15 miles
distant. The theory of Aetna was that the crash was due to pilot reliance on this faulty assumption, invited by the
difference in scale. It contends that this difference in scale created a conflict between the information conveyed
by the graphics of the chart and that conveyed in words and numbers, and that this conflict rendered the chart
Jeppesen disputed Aetna's claim that it was the custom of the chart makers to draw the profile and plan views
to the same scale. In addition, Jeppesen produced experienced pilots as witnesses who testified that they had
never made assumptions such as those attributed to the Bonanza flight crew, and had never heard of any pilots
who had. Jeppesen contends that Aetna has failed completely to make out a case of product defect. We cannot
While the information conveyed in words and figures on the Las Vegas approach chart was completely correct,
the purpose of the chart was to translate this information into an instantly understandable graphic representation.
This was what gave the chart its usefulness this is what the chart contributed to the mere data amassed and
promulgated by the FAA. It was reliance on this graphic portrayal that Jeppesen invited.
The trial judge found that the Las Vegas chart "radically departed" from the usual presentation of graphics in
the other Jeppesen charts; that the conflict between the information conveyed by words and numbers and the
information conveyed by graphics rendered the chart unreasonably dangerous and a defective product.
Under Nevada law a plaintiff can recover for injuries caused by use of a product with a defective design which
makes it unsafe for its intended use, so long as the plaintiff is unaware of the defect at the time of use. Worrell v.
Barnes, 87 Nev. 204, 207, 484 P.2d 573, 575-76 (1971). See Restatement (Second) of Torts @ 402A. On these
facts, we conclude that the court's finding that the product was defective is not clearly erroneous.
Finding Respecting Crew Negligence
The district court found that the members of the crew had relied on the graphic portrayal contained in the chart
and were misled into assuming that it was safe to fly at an altitude of 3,100 feet 15 miles from the field; that they
had acted upon that assumption; and that in making that assumption, which resulted in the fatal crash, they were
free from negligence. It is here where we part company with the district court.
To find that Jeppesen's product defect was a proximate cause of the crash we must hypothesize pilot reliance
on the graphics of the chart and complete disregard of the words and figures accompanying them. We reject
outright a standard of care that would consider such conduct as reasonable attention to duty by a pilot of a
passenger plane. The only testimony as to standard of care that of expert pilots (including Aetna's aviation
psychologist) is flatly to the contrary. We hold that the district court was clearly erroneous in finding the
members of the crew to be free from negligence in allowing themselves to be misled by variance in scale between
the plan and the profile. For purposes of apportioning damages, the extent to which that negligence contributed
to the crash remains to be decided.
Choice of Law
*** The district court held that there was no applicable Nevada law, and that if presented with the question the
Nevada Supreme Court would adopt the position of the California Supreme Court and apply the principles of
comparative fault. *** We find no error in the court's choice of law.
Apportionment of Damages
The district court apportioned damages on the basis of the comparative fault doctrine adopted in California in
Li v. Yellow Cab Co. of California, 13 Cal.3d 804, 532 P.2d 1226, 119 Cal.Rptr. 858 (1975), noting that this
doctrine has since been enlarged to apply to product liability cases. Daly v. General Motors Corp., 20 Cal.3d
725, 575 P.2d 1162, 144 Cal.Rptr. 380 (1978). Under this system, a defendant remains strictly liable for injuries
caused by a defective product, but plaintiff's recovery is reduced to the extent that its lack of reasonable care
contributed to the injury. ***
In computing damages, the district court applied the comparative fault doctrine by looking to "the consequence
of fault on the part of each of the parties and the possible damages which might arise from such fault," thus
taking into account the potential for harm that could flow from the conduct of each of the parties. The court
regarded the extent of Bonanza's fault in failing to alert its crew members to the variance in scale as limited to
this flight alone. Jeppesen, however, was charged with the potential loss of life that might occur on any flight
using its charts. Jeppesen asserts that this method of apportioning damages was in error, and we agree. (1)
California law apportions indemnity according to the extent that each party's fault contributed to the original accident; this is true even if the original basis for liability of each defendant differed. Safeway Stores, Inc. v. Nest-Kart, 21 Cal.3d 322, 579 P.2d 441, 146 Cal.Rptr. 550 (1978) (negligent defendant found 80 percent at fault while strictly liable defendant found 20 percent at fault; indemnity apportioned accordingly)*** Inasmuch as the district court properly held that Nevada would follow California law, we believe that Nest-Kart states the rule applicable here. Accordingly, we reverse and remand with instructions to reapportion indemnity under the standards enunciated in Nest-Kart, with the negligence of the plane's crew appropriately considered.
Judgment is vacated and the matter remanded for a reapportionment of damages.
1. Even accepting the court's standard, Bonanza's duty was not limited to the passengers on this flight. It is hardly fair to take potential future harm into consideration in computing Jeppesen's liability but not Bonanza's.