April 24, 2019 Articles

Boyle to Burn Pits and Beyond: A Government Contractor Defense Refresher

The boundaries of the government contractor defense continue to be tested.

By Paul V. Majkowski

In 1988, the U.S. Supreme Court articulated what has come to be known as the “government contractor defense,” sometimes referred to as the “military contractor defense,” in Boyle v. United Technologies Corp., 487 U.S. 500 (1988), in which the estate of a serviceman killed in a helicopter crash sought to recover from the aircraft’s manufacturer for a design defect. The government contractor defense derives from the government’s sovereign and discretionary function immunity, which has been extended to military contractors based on the “uniquely federal interests . . . in getting the Government’s work done” with respect to ensuring military readiness, thereby displacing state product liability law. Id. at 504–5. In order for the defense to apply, the government must have participated in formulating the product specifications, the product must conform to the specifications, and the manufacturer must have warned the government of dangers known to it but not the government.

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