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Aviation parts company in Gibsonville accused of selling defective fuel pump that allegedly led to fatal plane crash

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An aviation parts manufacturing and repair company in Gibsonville is being sued for allegedly selling a defective fuel pump and components which the plaintiffs blame for a “catastrophic engine failure” that they say caused severe and permanent injuries to the flight instructor and the death of a “student pilot” due to injuries sustained during a plane crash in May 2019.

The plane crash allegedly occurred at a municipal airport in Foley, Alabama on May 6, 2019, but the lawsuit was filed in Alamance County civil superior court because the defendant company is based in Gibsonville and Burlington.

The lawsuit was filed against Tempest Aero Group, which has two manufacturing and repair facilities in Gibsonville: a machine shop at 211 Chase Street; and a manufacturing and repair facility at 1240 Springwood Avenue. Tempest Aero Group also has an office at 2208 Air Park Drive in Burlington, which handles marketing and sales of general aviation products for the company, according to the website for Tempest Aero Group.

The suit against Tempest Aero Group was filed earlier this month by the parents (appointed as guardians/representatives for the lawsuit) for the two people – one killed, the other allegedly injured – during the May 2019 crash. The suit claims that the flight instructor, Jessica Pohlman, is incapacitated and currently “in a vegetative or near-vegetative state” due to the injuries she sustained in the crash. The student pilot, Lee Carlton McCullar, died as a result of injuries from the crash, the lawsuit alleges.

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The court file lists the addresses for both sets of parents/guardians as Pensacola, Florida.

Sometime in late July 2015, “a newly-overhauled engine driven fuel pump manufactured and assembled by Tempest and/or Aero Accessories” was installed on the airplane that later crashed in Foley, Alabama in May 2019, the lawsuit alleges. (The two manufacturing and repair facilities were previously separate entities before merging to become “Tempest Aero Group,” according to the complaint.)

The lawsuit alleges that a subsequent “post-crash investigation” and testing had revealed that the engine driven fuel pump had not been functioning properly and provided no fuel flow.

Four loose screws were found on the periphery of the engine driven fuel pump; and bubbles were observed around the gasket of the fuel pump when activated, based on alleged findings from the post-crash investigation that are outlined in the suit.

In their suit, the plaintiffs claim that the “total loss of engine power and resultant crash” may have been caused by “one or more” of the issues uncovered in the post-crash investigation.

The plaintiffs further allege that, “long prior to May 6, 2019,” Tempest Aero Group knew that there were defects in the engine driven fuel pump, even though it had been certified as “airworthy” to the Federal Administration.

The plaintiffs claim that these misrepresentations about the airworthiness of the engine driven fuel pump and/or its components “is directly related to the cause of the accident,” the complaint alleges.

The lawsuit accuses Tempest Aero Group of knowingly misrepresenting, concealing, and/or withholding information, and failing to notify the FAA and other regulators about the extent and seriousness of the defects in the engine driven fuel pump and its component, accessory, and/or replacement parts “which caused, in whole or in part, the crash.”

The lawsuit alleges that the defendant purportedly managed to conceal the “latent, internal defects” in the engine driven fuel pump because Tempest Aero Group sells its products in “small and distinct markets,” apparently meaning that there would be little public interest in any problems with the product beyond the niche aviation market.

Instead, the plaintiffs claim that Tempest Aero Group knowingly sold a “defective and unreasonably dangerous” engine driven fuel pump and/or components; failed to issue a recall; and failed to notify its customers of the alleged problems.

The plaintiffs are seeking separate awards of more than $25,000 in compensatory damages and more than $25,000 in punitive damages against Tempest Aero Group.

Pohlman’s parents/guardians are also an award for compensatory and punitive damages for her “extraordinary” medical expenses; “loss of enjoyment of life”; pain and suffering; mental anguish; emotional injuries; as well as “pre-impact and post-impact fright and terror,” which they claim resulted from the defendant’s “outrageous, willful, wanton and reckless conduct.”

The injuries that Pohlman allegedly sustained during after the plane crash in May 2019 include: traumatic brain injury with loss of consciousness; cardiac arrest; cerebral edema and cognitive disorder; acute anemia and acute kidney injury; subdural hematomas and hemorrhages; and respiratory failure requiring a breathing tube; and dozens of other alleged severe and debilitating injuries.

McCullar’s parents/guardians are seeking damages for his funeral expenses and expected future earnings, as well as pain and suffering and other alleged damages.

The plaintiffs are being represented by: the Freedman Thompson Witt Ceberio & Byrd law firm in Winston-Salem; and the Speiser Krause law firm in Atlanta.

Lee McCullar’s father, David C. McCullar, is also seeking an award for damages under a separate claim of wrongful death, which the father contends arose from the defendant’s actions. David McCullar is being represented in that matter by the Hare Wynn Newell & Newton law firm in Birmingham, Alabama.

Tempest Aero Group had not filed a response by press time.

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