Stella Potential

This lawsuit may be eligible for a Stella Award:

Once again, I’m astounded as to how the airplane manufacturer  is to blame.

A Minnesota jury has found that though the pilot was 25 percent negligent in the January, 2003, fatal crash of an SR-22 that killed him and a passenger near Hill City, Minn., Cirrus and the University of North Dakota were 75 percent negligent.

…and yet The NTSB’s factual report states the pilot requested an abbreviated briefing for the flight noting that conditions at the departure airport were 2,800 feet overcast and that he was “hoping to slide underneath it then climb out.” So the weather was admittedly not ideal and the pilot elected to fly in conditions that required advanced training. His sign off provided Visual flight rules only.

Prokop was given a VFR-only completion certificate and high performance endorsement limited to the SR-22 upon his completion of the course.

I will repeat something I’ve said before: Almost every NTSB accident report ends with the conclusion -”pilot error”.  We are responsible for our safety and the safety of others. Flying has inherent risk and we seek to manage it.

I have rented aircraft in other areas of the country after a check ride from the FBO.  However, if I were to violate  conditions established in writing that led to an incident,  how could they be responsible? I don’t mean to marginalize the anguish of losing a loved one but someone should explain how the aircraft manufacturer is at fault. 

Traveling in aircraft at speeds and altitudes that are at once both lethal is inherent to the activity. An aircraft on the ramp is safe but it’s not designed for that purpose. Stella Liebeck initially won  $2.9M for spilling hot coffee in her lap but hot coffee is supposed to be , well….hot. “Are the people involved ..using the courts to redress justifiable grievances that can’t otherwise be settled? Or are they trying to extort money from anyone they can? Are the lawyers involved champions of justice? …Or are they helping to abuse the system in the name of getting a piece of the action?”

You be the judge.


4 responses to “Stella Potential

  1. At the risk of being flamed, I think some clarification of the “Stella” case is in order.

    (BTW – I don’t agree with the decision in the Cirrus case – pilots are responsible for their decisions as “highly-trained” individuals…and, it appears, the pilot involved created his own destiny. Hopefully, the verdict will be overturend on appeal.)

    Stella got a cup of coffee from McD’s that was 180 degrees, as was the standard temp for McD’s coffee in those days.

    Liquid at 180 degrees will cause third degree burns in 3/4 of a second after contact with skin. Stella suffered 2nd and 3rd degree burns to her groin.

    Your home coffee-maker dispenses coffee at 140 degrees. McD’s could not justify its serving its coffee at that temp for any particular reason – it had nothing to do with flavor, preservation or any other reason that would justify their serving it that hot.

    The issue in that case was NOT, “Was the coffee hot?”

    The issue WAS, “Was the coffee UNREASONABLY hot?”

    The jury found that, because McD could not provide any rational reason for serving its coffee at that temp, other than tradition, the coffee was unreas0nably hot and awarded Stella 2.9 million dollars.

    What most people don’t hear about is that the Judge in that case, exercising the Court’s power under the Doctrine of Remittitur, reduced the damage award to $400,000.

    So, now, would you accept $400,o00 to allow someone to cause 2nd and 3rd degree burns to YOUR groin?

    Nah, didn’t think so…

    All that being said, juries can be strange creatures. But, by and large, the system works well. Yes, you hear about aberrant cases because they make news and sell papers and advertising. But, for the most part, cases are settled for reasonable sums taking into consideration someone’s injuries, the degree of negligence, etc.

    • I certainly agree that I’d like to keep my groin intact thank you very much. I’m sure Stella never wanted that misery nor the lawsuit either.

      However, while I agree that the coffee was plenty hot, many people prefer coffee that way. Starbucks serves even hotter coffee today. Is it possible that really hot coffee was a general restaurant SOP? As to the scope: McDonald’s sells billions of cups of coffee. There had been 700 complaints over hot coffee in the previous decade, but that translates into a complaint rate of 1-in-24-million. You might say one severe burn case may be too many. But the coffee was labeled “hot” and it wasn’t McDonald’s fault it was mishandled.

      Stella Liebeck was attempting to put cream and sugar in her coffee cup held between her legs while in the passenger seat with the car stopped. An employee didn’t splash it on her.She suffered third-degree burns because, while wearing sweatpants that absorbed the liquid and held it to her skin, she sat in a puddle of hot coffee for over ninety seconds.

      I was aware the settlement was reduced but the jury initially awarded $2.9M. Seems wrong when the root cause was negligence / carelessness on her part, not MickeyD’s.

      Back to the Cirrus example: It was Pilot error.

      Thanks for weighing in and I appreciate the commentary. I’ll promise to keep the lawyer jokes to myself if you refrain from sales and marketing jokes.

  2. Deal.


  3. Pingback: Life, Liberty and the Right to Sue – Part Two « Blue Side Up

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