Plane owner claims inspector failed to detect potentially catastrophic crack

Kelly Holleran Feb. 12, 2010, 10:00am

Cessna 421C

A Jefferson County business claims its employees could have been involved in a fatal airplane crash because of an inadequate inspection of the plane before its purchase.

Plaintiff N421PR Inc. filed a lawsuit Feb. 5 in Jefferson County District Court against Tom's Aircraft Maintenance.

N421PR, a Texas company based in Jefferson County, claims it hired Tom's to inspect a 1976 Cessna 421C Aircraft it planned to lease to Monument Constructors, a roofing company, for use as a business plane.

The seller of the plane specifically told Tom's that he had discovered an oil leak coming from the plane's right engine and requested Tom's determine its cause as part of the pre-purchase inspection, according to the complaint.

After completing 20 hours worth of inspection work to the plane, Tom's determined the cause of the leak to be the result of "rolled seals" under one or more of the aircraft's right engine cylinders. Tom's estimated the problem would cost $1,480 to correct, the suit states.

"On the strength of Tom's pre-purchase inspection, N421PR proceeded to purchase the Aircraft and fly it back to Texas," the complaint says.

"N421PR then arranged for a nationally renowned Cessna 421 repair facility called Air Impression in Waco, Texas, to make a number of modifications and upgrades to the Aircraft. N421PR also asked Air Impressions to remove the cylinders in question and replace the 'rolled seals.'"

Within 15 minutes of their work on the plane, Air Impressions' technicians noticed a major crack in the right engine's crankcase, which was the cause of the plane's oil leak, N421PR claims.

"Tom's should have absolutely discovered and disclosed the crack in the right engine crankcase during the course of any pre-purchase inspection," the suit states.

"Left undiagnosed, the cracked crankcase could have resulted in a catastrophic engine failure and potentially, a fatal aircraft accident. Tom's failure to discover such a patently obvious discrepancy placed Monument's pilots and passengers in grave danger, and exposed both N421PR and Monument to financial disaster."

The final cost to repair the plane was $30,099, since Air Impressions technicians had to remove, repair and replace the right engine, according to the complaint.

N421PR alleges breach of contract, breach of express and implied warranty and violations of the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act,

It seeks special, exemplary and enhanced damages, plus pre- and post-judgment interest at the highest rate allowed by law, attorneys' fees, costs and other relief the court deems just.

George Andrew Coats and Gary Linn Evans of Coats and Evans in The Woodlands will be representing the plaintiff.

The case has been assigned to Judge Donald Floyd, 172nd District Court.

Jefferson County District Court case number: E185-871.

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