Pilot Fired For Refusing Unsafe Flight Awarded $2 Million


A corporate pilot who was fired after refusing to fly a trip he deemed unsafe has been awarded $1.99 million in damages after suing his former employer. Ray Justinic worked for the flight operations subsidiary of a property management company with a large hotel on the Caribbean island of Saint Martin. He was asked to load the aircraft with construction and cleaning supplies and fly staff and insurance personnel to the island after Hurricane Irma, a Category 4 storm, struck in September of 2017. The hotel was severely damaged by the storm. He then checked the weather and determined it was unsafe to make the trip. He told his employers he would monitor the weather and be ready to go early the next morning if conditions allowed.

The aircraft operators hired another pilot to take the trip the same night and a week later told Justinic he was fired. They then sued him for $20,000 to recover part of the cost of getting him typed in their aircraft. At that point Justinic decided to sue them back and a jury in Boone County, Kentucky, actually awarded him $300,000 more than he was asking. “Everybody’s been on a plane; everybody’s experienced unpredictable weather so in that respect this was a compelling case,” his lawyer Anthony Bucher told the news website Fort Thomas Matters

Russ Niles
Russ Niles is Editor-in-Chief of AVweb. He has been a pilot for 30 years and joined AVweb 22 years ago. He and his wife Marni live in southern British Columbia where they also operate a small winery.

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  1. The Pilot is the “FINAL” Authority as to whether a flight is safe. That needs to be reinforced often. Kobe’s pilot was probably under corporate pressure to make the flight also.

  2. I had a similar incident several years ago, when “ordered” to take a plane with faulty nav/com radios and an engine that was losing oil at the rate of a quart an hour (and was 2 quarts low already) on a 400 NM flight at night over hostile terrain. Luckily for me my boss was taking flying lessons and called his instructor who promptly backed up my no go decision. The next morning we topped off the oil, plotted a VFR course and limped back home with one go comm radio.
    I was “fired” until the instructor told the guy I was probably saving his a**.

  3. I’m all for the PIC being the PIC, but “damages” are just that, and there’s no way his refusal would have cost him two very, very large AMUs. A year or two’s pay, perhaps.
    Heck, I’d hire the guy for his judgement; I made a mess of a plane once because I didn’t use mine.

  4. Love it. Way to go Ray. At some point every pilot has to tell the management NO. Management doesn’t have the safety insights that the pilot possesses. Once the pilot says it is unsafe that should be the end and as far as the FAA is concerned that is the equivalent of declaring an emergency and they will back the pilot. Aviation has lots of accidents where management pushed the pilots to do things that were unsafe. Way to go Ray.

  5. This happens a lot especially in EMS Part 135 operations. I was flying for a company who was pencil whipping inspections and when I complained I was fired. My awesome NDA won’t let me say how much they ended up paying me after I sued them, waaaay more than this pilot got. You just need to stick to your guns and have evidence to back up your claim.

  6. I refused to sign off a certification on some FAA equipment when I worked for the FAA. They were so angry I was put in a basement closet to work and demoted. I got nothing and was attacked by the US Attorney (that represents the FAA) I didn’t just lose my job.
    This guy or girl was very lucky. The government really isn’t so interested in safety, only their own personal reputation.
    I feel good about it now… the parties involved are dead now and their graves have been desecrated properly.

  7. This is, in part, one reason that this ATP never wanted to work for the Airlines. I’m too much of a people pleaser. I find it hard to tell someone “No,” let alone a cabin full of people.

    So I’m glad that Mr. Justinic did the right thing. I addition to Kobe’s pilot (mentioned above), I recall a young R&B singer (Aaliyah) who, despite the pilot’s protests, bullied her pilot – his first day with that company – into taking off with WAY too many people and equipment.

    They’re all dead now, crashing immediately after takeoff.

    (My version of the story is hard to find on the ‘Net now, and history has been revised. Her family sued the charter company, who settled out of court.)

    Which reminds me of a sermon that I heard a long time ago. A land owner in (say) Mexico wanted to make a hire. He interviewed several men, asking them if they thought that they could lead his donkey over a very narrow, treacherous mountain trail. All the applicants assured him that they could. Except the last one, an older man, who told the land owner that he didn’t think it safe to take the risk.

    He was the one the land owner hired.

    If I were going to fly for an Airline, that is the type that I would like to fly for.