Life, Liberty and the Right to Sue – Part Two

Aircraft accidents almost always generate some sort of litigation. Previously, I have commented on lawsuits that seek to blame the aircraft manufacturer for incidents that were caused by pilot error. Apparently, lawyers can also sue based on “pilot negligence”. The family of Michael Waugh has just been awarded $15M in a wrongful death suit due to an accident that occurred January 2006 in suburban Chicago (Wheeling, IL). Failure to maintain airspeed on approach may have been the cause. While all the facts aren’t readily available, we know there were two pilots: One with a private certificate and the other, the owner of the plane, had a commercial license.
The plaintiff’s attorney said: There is a world of difference between a professionally trained pilot and an amateur pilot,” said Robb, an attorney in Kansas City, Mo. “That was the basis of our lawsuit.”… “That they would permit nonprofessional pilots to fly Morgan Stanley customers on Morgan Stanley business is reprehensible,”

An Airline Transport Pilot certificate is more demanding than a commercial certificate and mandates a minimum 1,500 hours flight time but what exactly constitutes a “professionally trained pilot”? A commercial pilot can be professionally trained. If the pilot in question had an ATP rating wouldn’t the lawyers still choose to sue the pilot for negligence? I think they would.

While there were business relationships involved in this situation, these men were flying together because they were friends. This casts a shadow on the whole idea of flying a buddy or a neighbor. Pilots might even be a little more concerned about introducing youngsters to the wonders of flight in the Young Eagles program given  liability considerations.  Every pilot I’ve ever met is supremely confident they’ll bring plane and passengers back safe and sound but light aircraft flights do have more risk. Passengers should understand that an “engine out” situation in a single engine plane means at the very least they’ll be walking  out of a field with muddy boots. It has the potential to be worse.

There are legal firms ambulance chasers that specialize in this line of work:

Have you or a loved one been injured in a plane crash? Have you lost a loved one to an aviation disaster? When people and organizations responsible for your safety and the safety of your loved ones on an aircraft fail, state and federal laws allow for individuals and families to hold them responsible for injuries or wrongful death. If you have questions regarding airplane crash law, aviation liability, and personal injury and wrongful death, contact the law offices of…

There are no standard aviation insurance policies that carry $15M of liability coverage. Probably because the tort body of law didn’t always operate this way. General aviation pilots are anxious regarding new security proposals, budget legislation from Washington, urban pressures on airports, and other vital issues will affect their ability to fly. Lawsuits are one more concern to add to the list.


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