Cirrus Decision: No Good Deed

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If you haven't read this recent decision (PDF) on a lawsuit filed against Cirrus, it's definitely worth a 15-minute scan. The court's opinion makes several interesting points, but I found two particularly compelling. In a nutshell, Minnesota's Court of Appeals reversed a 2009 judgment which required Cirrus to pay $14.5 million in damages to the families of two men killed in the 2003 crash of an SR22 near Hill City, Minnesota. The SR22 owner, Gary Prokop, was a 225-hour VFR-rated pilot who launched into marginal conditions early in the morning, lost control and crashed. The NTSB cited spatial disorientation as the probable cause. The exact weather at the crash site was unknown, but an ASOS station north of the area reported few at 300 feet, 1400-feet broken and 2700-feet overcast with 7 miles of visibility. The weather was better to the south.

The suit against Cirrus argued that the company had a duty of care to train Prokop in methods to recover from inadvertent IMC encounters and that it failed to do so. Second, the original suit contended that Cirrus was negligent in "designing, testing, manufacturing, sale, distribution, maintenance, warnings, pilot training, and instructions given regarding the aircraft." A jury agreed and the plaintiffs were awarded $14.5 million in damages. The case turned on whether the University of North Dakota Aerospace Foundation (UNDAF), which Cirrus had contracted to provide training, had properly instructed Prokop in the use of the airplane's autopilot and whether it had trained him in recovery from VFR into IMC. A block on the training syllabus for this item was left unchecked, although Prokop's instructor said he did provide the training. If the training was not provided, the block was supposed to be left unchecked.

During the trial, Cirrus and UNDAF asked the court for a judgment as a matter of law, basically contending that the plaintiff's claims were barred because of Minnesota's educational malpractice doctrine and that the evidence of insufficient training was lacking. The trial court rejected these motions. The court later denied Cirrus and UNDAF's request for a new trial.

In its appeal, Cirrus again raised the issue of whether the company had a duty to provide training and proficiency. The plaintiff's restated the argument that the seller of a potentially dangerous piece of equipment has an obligation under law to provide adequate instructions in the safe use of that product. Cirrus didn't argue this point, but focused on the scope of the warnings required.

It's at this point that the appeals court inserted, as an aside, the first interesting point: "It is not apparent that Cirrus had a duty to warn Prokop," it said. Under a doctrine called the sophisticated user defense, a company has no duty to warn the ultimate user if it has reason to believe that the user will realize the dangerous condition. This is the sort of common-sense reasoning that most pilots will resonate with. In other words, some hazards are so self-evident that no one other than the pilot should be held responsible.

The appeals court found that the plaintiff's claim that the duty to warn also included the requirement to train the end user to proficiency didn't stand up. But this led to the second interesting point, which is found in the dissent by Judge Roger Klaphake. He argued that when Cirrus decided that it wouldn't turn the airplane over to a buyer until that buyer had completed training and the fact that it contracted UNDAF to provide the training, it stepped up and assumed a duty of care which might not otherwise have been there. And having assumed that duty, the dissent argued, Cirrus was on the hook to "exercise reasonable care or he will be responsible for damages resulting from his failure to do so."

You can see where that reasoning goes. Cirrus might have been less liable if it hadn't provided any training at all, a classic version of the damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don't doctrine and a stunning example of the tort environment in which manufacturers must live. The unintended consequence is that if a manufacturer makes a bonafide effort to improve the ownership experience--as Cirrus clearly has--it could actually be working counter to its own interests.

In my view, the appeals court got this right. As do most pilots, I accept that airplanes are dangerous and that if mishandled or mistreated, they can kill you. Sometimes they can kill you even when that doesn't happen. But I, as the user, assume responsibility to understand the risks and dangers and mitigate them as I see fit.

On the other hand, anyone who buys a product has and deserves remedy under civil tort in cases of egregious negligence. If the manufacturer uses the wrong bolt grade and something comes apart or if it skips or fouls up a critical manufacturing or design process, it's rightly on the hook for damages.

Personally, I don't see that here, although the dissenting judge did. And that's what keeps defense lawyers up at night.

Comments (51)

Good overview Paul. I get all my local news from Duluth, and the reporters do a good job at covering issues related to Cirrus and aviation in general. They caught on to the common sense involved and actually used an example equating buying a Cirrus to buying a new car. I don't remember the exact words, but essentially if you were to buy a new car then intentionally drive it off a cliff it is your own fault. As you pointed out, though, if a tie rod were to break and cause you to drive off the edge of the cliff, the manufacturer should be responsible.

Posted by: Brett Friermood | April 23, 2011 10:49 AM    Report this comment

"Cirrus was negligent in “designing, testing, manufacturing, sale, distribution, maintenance, warnings, pilot training, and instructions given regarding the aircraft.”

This is bunk. Each step in that process is documented with the Government. HOW did this ever even get to a court room in the first place? If anything Cirrus is more proven and documented than any previous design. It also has a ballistic chute to be over and above what is required.

Posted by: Mark Fraser | April 23, 2011 12:19 PM    Report this comment

Good post, me thinks. I hate the thought that going the extra mile can expose a manufacturer to more legal risks. It appears that what I would call common sense won out here.

Posted by: John Hogan | April 23, 2011 11:38 PM    Report this comment

I wonder at the premise behind this whole case. Apparently, the notion that the pilot wasn't trained properly how to use the autopilot to perform a basic flight maneuver (a 180 turn) caused a jury to award 14 million dollars.

In order to conduct the fateful flight, the pilot had to convince an instructor and examiner that he deserved a private pilot certificate. When I did that, some 40 years ago, it was necessary to demonstrate sufficient instrument flight proficiency to perform a 180 degree turn. Indeed, I had to do this and a lot more instrument flying on my private check ride. I doubt the training requirements for the private certificate have been relaxed since then.

So, why didn't the defense bring up this point? The pilot should have been able to conduct the alleged life saving maneuver without the aid of the autopilot or training how to use the autopilot.

Perhaps this is all a result Cirrus' (misguided?) marketing strategy suggesting that there are so many safety devices built into their planes the pilot doesn't need much skill to safely fly them.

Perhaps this is just proof that we have too many tort lawyers.

Posted by: PAUL MULWITZ | April 25, 2011 7:17 AM    Report this comment

If we look at this from another angle, it might not seem so cut and dry. Let's put aside to fact that Cirrus made the aircraft and just consentrate on the fact that they provided the training.

I'm a flight instructor. I have provided type specific transition training in the past. If I failed to provide training on a system and then my student later crashed because of a lack of understanding about that same system, I could easily be held liable.

Cirrus took on the task of training new owners. Believe me, the cost of that training is included in the purchase price when figuring margins. They had a responsibility to provide adequate training.

New Cirrus owners could easily believe they were being provided comprehensive training and therefore would not need to supplement that training with any further instruction.

If they wanted to insulate themselves they should have provided training from an independent training company that would then take on the liability.

Many larger manufacturers often times provide training for a given number of pilots with the purchase of a new plane but that training is usually conducted by Flightsafety or the like.

I don't know if this was a just finding or not. I don't have all the facts but let's not all jump to the conclusion that Cirrus was not at fault because they were just being a good Semaritan by providing the transition training.

Posted by: Michael Devon | April 25, 2011 7:28 AM    Report this comment

I could say much more about this than I will but let me make one salient point:

For those who are thankful that "common sense prevailed" (which it has so far, at least legally), I would ask two questions. 1. What do you think it cost Cirrus (or their insurer)in legal fees to defend themselves? 2. Who will ultimately pay those costs?

This is a pyrrhic victory at best.

Posted by: JIM LAUERMAN | April 25, 2011 8:46 AM    Report this comment

After reading the court's opinion, the one thing that disappointed me as a lawyer was that they did not address what may have been other valid appellant arguments, because they felt that the educational liability issue resolved the case. That isn't much help if the state in which a case occurs doesn't have an educational liability defense available. Although Minnesota law isn't binding on other state's courts, when the opinions of other state's courts are well-reasoned, they can be persuasive.

As an experienced pilot and former instructor, though, what disappointed me the most was the argument made by appellees and accepted by the dissenting justice that it was necessary to use the autopilot to keep this accident from happening. What was necessary to keep this accident from happening was the judgment not to launch a VFR flight into very marginal conditions that could (and apparently did) instantly become IMC, and the basic skills to turn 180 degrees without losing control. Relying on automation to replace judgment and skill is deadly.


Posted by: Cary Alburn | April 25, 2011 8:49 AM    Report this comment

Michael UNDAF was contracted by Cirrus to train the buyers. Cirrus went more than was legally required as the fact of the outcome speak itself. What we as pilots, or manufacture,or owners,or any party in the chain of commerce of the accident aircraft must be very concerned, the state courts, the juries that sat in the court make the decision as to what needs to be paid to make the juries feel justified. No amount of FAR, no evidence will help when the case is presented by plaintiff attorneys and the hired gun(expert witness)with their best to fool the juries whom usually have no idea why plane flies. Some (quite a few) judges are just as ignorant or pretend to be fair by disallowing certain evidence to be presented in their court while allow the other party the privilege to do so. (Try this, when the judge says you can't put that FAR on the wall to educate the juries! "if you did, I'm afraid there may not be a case here.") It's kind of boring when one sit and work in that environment all day, all year long. They do need to be entertained in their jobs. However, to us as an involved party, its like an alien world unfortunately got us caught up with any of the cases where natural law of physics can be changed or does not apply. I advice any of you go and attend one of these trials to enlighten yourself. Remember this, we have a legal system but not a justice system. A legal system require large amount of money (aviation? millions!) to keep everyone paid or employed.

Posted by: Chin Tu | April 25, 2011 9:04 AM    Report this comment

What ever happened to "a jury of your peers"? Anyone with any flying experience at all would certainly have called BS on the plaintiffs' original argument that VFR into IMC is Cirrus' responsibility. Ditto for any 12 randomly selected Avweb readers!

Posted by: A Richie | April 25, 2011 9:05 AM    Report this comment

Your "peers" are the government workers, social workers, post office workers, unemployed who can take the time off of their jobs and still get paid. Any peer who has any educational back ground related to the case is systematically weeded out through the jury selection.

Posted by: Chin Tu | April 25, 2011 9:23 AM    Report this comment

The virtually universal exuberance that greets this kind of isolated outbreak of common sense within our abysmal tort system only serves to point out how bad it has become.

As Richie points out, lawyers expertly winnow out any prospective juror who knows anything about whatever field the case involves. They also do their best to pack the panel with people they profile as being “progressive”, i.e. anti-business.

Judges for their part are all too willing to accept even the most convoluted arguments offered to extend the concept of liability, building endlessly on an already obscenely bloated mound of bad precedent.

And of course our legislators, so many of whom are lawyers themselves, are always happy to accommodate the objectives of the trial lawyers in return for a continued flow of that “mother’s milk of politics.

The whole thing has become a sick joke; as the song lyrics say, “Spill a cup of coffee, win a million dollars.”

Posted by: John Wilson | April 25, 2011 10:20 AM    Report this comment

I was once named as a defendant in a civil suit based on the crash of an airplane I worked on. During the pre-trial discussions, a judge appointed by the courts told all parties that if a settlement couldn't be reached we would have to try the case, "in front of a group of people who are not smart enough to get out of jury duty."
I'm actually heartened by the result of this appeal decision-let's hope that it sets a precedent

Posted by: Steve Ells | April 25, 2011 10:49 AM    Report this comment

I think Michael Devon has a good point. Cirrus, by training pilots, assumed the roles and risks of any educator. The question isn't if it's a good idea for Cirrus to provide the training (of course it is - it's a complicated aircraft), but maybe passing should be understood to be the "bare minimum for that aircraft".

I have recently completed the Cirrus IFR training myself. It really is supplemental to IFR training. In fact, it's a question of learning, and becoming familiar with the more modern instruments (Avidine/G1000/G430/etc). Though there are quizzes to check your progress, the training is very basic. At the end of it... if you follow the syllabus, you will be safe enough to fly the Cirrus conditions appropriate for your personal limits.

The point that Michael brings up, however, is a good one. Since Cirrus is taking on the role of educator, do they also need to be accountable as to what curriculum they are teaching, and whom is doing the teaching?

Posted by: Marc Newman | April 25, 2011 12:42 PM    Report this comment

There are many items that can harm us that we can purchase without training. Personal responsibility dictates that we obtain the necessary training before using said items.

As someone else mentioned, this should have never made it to the courts. See bad conditions up ahead?
Turn around and get back to VFR! It' not rocket science people. This is taught at the private pilot level. With 225 hours, he should have known better.

Posted by: Ric Lee | April 25, 2011 12:45 PM    Report this comment

I'm still having trouble with the idea that if I use poor judgement and hurt or kill myself with a product, that the company is somehow responsible because it didn't train me well enough to extract myself from my own poor judgment.

Even if assurances and promises of exceptional safety for the Cirrus were made, the sophisticated user defense implies that any reasonable person would understand the risks of departing into low IMC at night. Personal responsibility, at some point, has to kick in. Buyers should reasonably expect not to be nannied by the companies from whom they buy products.

Training--no matter how good or bad--doesn't necessarily eliminate risk or improve judgment for that matter. It's the pilot's job to understand that, in my view.

But then I'm old school.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | April 25, 2011 12:57 PM    Report this comment

Let's assume, for example, that as part of your television purchase agreement - you must take take lesson to become proficient at changing its channels (it's got a new way of channel changing). You receive the TV, take the required classes, and then find that the training was inadequate (even though you like the TV). At the very least, wouldn't you think that you should be able to get your money back?

Putting the question back onto Cirrus. Maybe the pilot in question shouldn't have been allowed to pass the training. Does Cirrus have a responsibility to fail some pilots/owners? Should there be a check-pilot/examiner to verify the pilot's ability? It seems to me that Cirrus is trying to sell aircraft, and the training is a way to help inflate their safety record.

I'm in no way saying that Cirrus should be liable for pilot errors in their aircraft. I am saying that Cirrus should be held accountable for their training, as it's part of the purchase contract. Shouldn't their training be under scrutiny? Wouldn't you expect that someone should be able to get a refund?

Posted by: Marc Newman | April 25, 2011 1:59 PM    Report this comment

Let's reduce the television analogy. Suppose when I can't change the channel, I look to check the wiring on the back of the unit, it falls off the shelf, breaks my leg, kills my dog and causes indelible blood stains on the carpet.

Clearly, Sony did not warn me of this. Are they therefore liable for my losses?

Not that I have the answer, exactly. But for those of you wondering why airplanes cost $600,000, a substantial portion of it goes into paying for insurance to pay lawyers to debate such questions before judges and juries.

Everyone has their own trip wire of egregiousness. Based on the appeal, this one doesn't trip mine.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | April 25, 2011 2:44 PM    Report this comment

On the surface, I don't agree with the appeal either.

However, since I'm a new Cirrus pilot (260 hours total PIC) I can see how someone with my experience can get over their head in this aircraft. It's faster, more complicated, will tell you the weather, warn you of terrain, and can make you very complacent because most of the time you're flying on autopilot.

... and that's the reason Cirrus has the training. Statistically it was more dangerous than other aircraft before they started the training program. Now, it's about equal. All this, knowing that it has a parachute! It's a complicated aircraft. The training is to get the pilot "on par" with everyone else in the sky - not to make them safer than they were before. But, I don't think is how the training (and the aircraft) is sold.

Posted by: Marc Newman | April 25, 2011 3:38 PM    Report this comment

Paul, I agree that the appeals court got this one right on the issues in the various lawsuits, and also that adverse outcomes often result when aircraft are in the hands of inept pilots. The pilot clearly did not possess the knowledge, skills or experience to be operating in the flight environment of that day regardless of the type of aircraft. He may have thought his fancy new airplane would get him through these conditions and save the day. Instead the simple forces of nature simply extinguished him, his passenger friend and the airplane -- without appeal, apology or remorse. Gravity always wins!

Who are you going to call about these types of incidents? Clearly, the legal profession has no answers. Lack of adequate training was raised as an issue in the lawsuits, but they failed to address two important training issues: risk in all its domains (awareness, mitigation, control, management, evaluation, etc.) and discipline (i.e., what you do when you think no one will find out). If the pilot had survived, what would have been his explanation as to why the flight was attempted under the circumstances that morning? This type of incident, which drives up everyone's cost of flying, will continue until the flight instruction community fully incorporates risk and discipline into the curriculum. We'll continue to find once shiny airplanes at the end of debris fields along with the inept pilots who put them there. It's just the way the world works!

Posted by: Keith Bumsted | April 25, 2011 4:54 PM    Report this comment

I agree with you Paul....(and) as a CFI and Cirrus owner, one must take responsibility for their own actions. A low-time VFR pilot flying into IMC is simply poor judgement and pilot error.

Posted by: ERIC CIPCIC | April 25, 2011 5:00 PM    Report this comment

Here's an idea. When the owner is about to do the training he must fill in and sign a waiver that clearly states that despite any training given by the company to familiarize the owner with operating the aircarft, all actions that the pilot makes as pilot in command of the aircraft are his responsibility including inadvertant flight into IMC and the manufacturer and trainer hold no responsibility fo the operations of the aircraft and judgements, decisions and actions made by the pilot in command while flying it and that the pilot/owner is soley responsible for it's safe operation.

Posted by: Trevor Evans | April 25, 2011 11:29 PM    Report this comment

We use the waiver idea in the skydiving industry, which simply couldn't exist without it. The sport is seen as so manifestly risky that it's ununinsurable, thus the waiver makes it economically viable. The waiver basically strips the signer of any right to sue or legal recourse, including negligence.

I suspect there are all sorts of reasons this wouldn't work in the GA realm.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | April 26, 2011 5:17 AM    Report this comment

We all sign a waiver. It's called a pilot's license.

Posted by: James Freal | April 26, 2011 5:21 AM    Report this comment

A while back, John Yodice had an article in the AOPA magazine talking about waivers - as I remember the jist of it was that there may be some protection afforded by a properly worded waiver, but the protection afforded depended greatly depending on circumstances and jurisdiction.

I would argue that part of any plan to help rebuild GA should include a cap on liability much as is being touted for medical malpractice. If any accident resulted in a maximum liability for personal death or injury not to exceed 1m per person, perhaps costs would drop for all of us.

Posted by: Josh Johnson | April 26, 2011 11:56 AM    Report this comment

Nice write-up Paul.
We pilot's really have no one to blame but ourselves for liability trials. How many times have I heard a spouse go on about how "I don't know about flying in small airplanes but my husband (or wife) is the safest pilot in the world...." So when the accident occurs it couldn't have possibly been because your husband (or wife) had so little respect for their responsibilities that they made poor taking off in marginal conditions without the proper ratings. It must be someone else's fault.

Posted by: Rob "daSlob" Schaffer | April 26, 2011 7:21 PM    Report this comment

One must not lose sight of the fact that Cirrus was providing transition training. They undertook a responsibility to teach the new owner the unique aspects of the Cirrus. They did not undertake to teach basic skills or risk management. Launching in marginal VFR, at night, in a relatively unfamiliar aircraft which was doubtless at the edge of the pilot's competence in the best of circumstances, is three strikes.

The case should never have gone to trial on that point alone, but as an aviation defense attorney I can say that there are very few judges who would throw this case out before trial.

Cirrus may have dodged a $14M bullet, assuming no further appeal, but I would not be surprised if the and their insurer spent north of $1M to dodge it.

Posted by: KRISTIN WINTER | April 27, 2011 12:15 AM    Report this comment

The original suit was valid: passenger family sued the pilots family for real damages. The secondary suit where the PIC's family sued Cirrus was not valid since nothing was wrong with the aircraft and Cirrus was not responsible for subsequent bad pilotage.

Posted by: Mark Fraser | April 27, 2011 7:39 AM    Report this comment

I noticed a couple people commenting on the inherent danger of a cirrus. I want to argue that point by saying it is really (no offense to anyone) the inherent danger of its PILOTS. A 250 hour pilot is buying into a very fast, very capable aircraft that in the wrong hands is dangerous. Cirrus has done the right thing, trying to train these pilots to be capable enough to fly the aircraft safely. I agree with almost all of you that this lawsuit was ridiculus, and furthermore, not that they deserved a lawsuit, I find it funny that the family didnt note the insurance company which let him fly the aircraft with such little time.

I think the resounding issue here is that inexperienced, unprepared pilots are buying an aircraft that is marekted to them but not really meant for them. I am not saying a 250 hour pilot CANT fly the aircraft, I am saying that a 250 hour pilot may not have the experience necessary to avoid the complacency that the advanced systems lead to. Even with my 1700 hours. In addition as so many of you have stated, we teach pilots how dangerous VFR into IFR is, yet they continuously do it.

Thats my opinion

Posted by: Matthew Waterman | April 27, 2011 9:49 AM    Report this comment

Looks like I didnt finish a thought there, I meant to say even with 1700 hours, I would be a bit leary to fly a cirrus based on just a manufacturers syllabi. I would want a transition course to prepare me! The problem is that this is my personal minimum, it is not law and so most pilots wont pay the additional costs. I am not a cirrus owner so I am unsure of what their course consists of, but from the sounds of it, it is not really meant to be a full transition, more an "insurance appeasement" course.

Posted by: Matthew Waterman | April 27, 2011 9:53 AM    Report this comment

I am a 350 hr VFR private pilot. I rent, and have flown 12 aircraft types - 20 tail numbers. Skylane, Cherokee, Citabria, J3Cub, Diamond Eclipse, Breezy, and plenty more. The transition training I have received was about 3 hrs for the high performance in the Skylane, and not even 1hour in the others (other than initial tail wheel). I have rented where I was told "show me 3 landings and you're good". Flying has risks. A pilot accepts and mitigates those risks. I know and I take responsibility when I need additional training for an aircraft or operation. I fly with an instructor every time I get back in a taildragger if its been a while. I limit my activities in a new plane to what I know I can do safely. On one occassion, I took the instructor along as a safety pilot rather than take on a new plane alone. Bottom line: it is my responsibility to know if I am able to fly this plane, or to do something about it. If my estate sues some poor soul after I'm gone, it does me no good if I'm dead. I take personal responsibility for my safety and my passengers' every time I launch. I would love to see a campaign where pilots create a 'living will" saying "I was in charge, my training was not at fault, my equipment was not at fault. I accepted certain risks in flying. If things went poorly, I take responsibility for my choice to fly, and the outcome of that flight". If we help take away the ability to sue on our behalf, we can help take away some of the burdensome cost of flying.

Posted by: Kenneth Miess | April 27, 2011 10:59 AM    Report this comment

Another nail in the coffin of general aviation. How many of these nails have been driven in by lawyers and judges?

Posted by: Andre Abreu | April 28, 2011 6:44 AM    Report this comment

I'm fairly certain that if the pilot had survived and the FAA was considering action, they would point out that the PILOT is responsible for ALL aspects of the flight. You would be held responsible for knowing every single facet of the flight details whether your flight was going to carry you into those circumstances or not. That's what they would beat you over the head with for any enforcement action. I'm a 225 hour pilot and I've completed my IFR training but haven't taken the test or check ride yet. VFR or IFR it's your responsibility to make the fly or no fly decision. Flying into IMC at 300 feet shouldn't have been a big surprise if the weather had been thoroughly checked. Having been recently trained for IMC I understand how disorienting it can be to suddenly fly into the clouds and lose all outside visual awareness. I distinctly recall my first time getting into really crappy IMC with my instructor. While struggling to maintain control, my instructor's calming comments were designed to get me to keep flying the plane. They were nowhere near the realm of "It's ok! Engage the Autopilot!" Aviate, navigate, communicate. Mr. Prokop failed to aviate. Nobody blamed the manufacturer for fatal JFK flight. I don't see how this is different. In the end the pilot is responsible for not getting him/herself into a situation that places them out of their level of training.

Posted by: Dave Hammang | April 28, 2011 8:43 AM    Report this comment

For those who think "this never should have gotten to court": What about the constitutional right of every person to "have their day in court"? Just because any individual disagrees with the sincerety of the plaintiff, does not rise to the validity of denying that person to be heard.
Cases have been upheld where an aircraft rental was predicated upon the renter being capable of passing the scrutiny of a check-out flight, and when the pilot crashes during that checkout, the rental facility is held at fault because "if they had not questioned the capability" of the renter, they would not have required the checkout, therefore it was the facility and the check-pilot who shared responsibility for the accident. Cirrus is charged with having required training, provided training thru a designated trng facility, and failed to prove the completeness of the training. It sounds like this case deserved a "day in court" to me...even tho' I personally feel that training cannot always be "trained"...but the existence of judgement can usually be "confirmed" or not. Problem: Use of good judgement during trng does not guarantee cont'd use of good judgment subsequently. Who was it that said "Bad experiences result from lack of good judgement, good judgement results from bad experiences"? This one is a good article, Paul!

Posted by: George Horn | April 28, 2011 9:05 AM    Report this comment

We all welcome our rights but what about our responsibilities?
Scud running is never a good idea and as every pilot knows "take off is optional, landing is mandatory!"
In marginal VFR that safe landing is less likely so the intelligent action is don't go!

Posted by: Kieran Timmons | April 28, 2011 9:21 AM    Report this comment

If I live in Arizona and have no experience in winter driving, then I travel to Alaska in winter and rent a car and drive off into a blinding snow storm, slide off the road into a ditch because I continued driving when the road conditions became icy and then somehow managed to freeze to death because I had no idea how to survive in winter conditions, would it be reasonable for my family to sue the rental agency for failing to teach me good judgment and how to drive in winter weather despite having given me a "check-out" on the operation of the car's controls etc? Could they also sue the manufacturer for not anticipating my stupidity and lack of judgment. Are they responsible?.. or am I for not seeking additional instruction? Is it reasonable to expect that the rental agency should provide me with a driving course on winter driving or should the manufacturer? If I get caught speeding or drive through a red light, I'm responsible...or am I not? I have a license, but isn't it my responsibility to use it responsibly?

Posted by: Trevor Evans | April 28, 2011 10:40 AM    Report this comment

Great article, Paul!
All this brings to mind Cessna's marketing of its pilot training centers back in the 50s -60s: "Learning to fly a Cessna is as easy as driving your car", (or something to that effect). I suspect Cessna paid the price for that attitude, although the highly litigious climate didn't exist then as now.
I suggest that FAA might establish a requirement for a logbook endorsement for additional training for "technologically advanced aircraft", similar to what's needed to fly a tail-dragger. The manufacturer would also require a waiver or release from the buyer promising to obtain such training before flying the new bird solo.

Posted by: Roger Newcomb | April 28, 2011 11:52 AM    Report this comment

If the Alaskan rental agency refused to rent the car to you until you passed their safety-course on winter driving...but then failed to teach you how to use the antiskid brakes...and you pumped the brakes instead of allowing the antiskid to work properly... then they probably contributed to the accident, right? If McDonalds served coffee at a scalding 200 degrees instead of the standard 125 degrees....and also failed to caution you....Ever notice as they set the plate before you, how Mexican restaraunts always say "hot plate!" ??? This is not far different than me beginning the takeoff roll ..while failing to have a pax fasten their seat belt. Negligence carries liabilities. IMO

Posted by: George Horn | April 28, 2011 12:42 PM    Report this comment

Mr. Newcomb...this will likely get folks up in arms against me but...I would not be opposed to FAA requiring type ratings in all models of aircraft. (of course...I'm a CFI/TCE/DPE so there might be those who will claim I'm unfairly biased...but I don't think intent is honorable. Lives saved are lives saved...sometimes non-pilot lives.) OT, perhaps but, I'm also surprised FAA hasn't awakened to the fact that lots of airplanes are operated out-of-license. I can't believe they don't require visible annual-inspection stickers attached to tail-numbers or next to external dataplates. This matter came to my attention years ago when I was ramp-checked heart stopped when I realized it was May 1...and my airplane's annual had expired the day before! (Fortunately my aircraft logs were not onboard....but I have personal knowlege of several airplanes which deliberately operated with regularity without current liability insurance...something my state requires of any auto and all drivers, respectively!)

Posted by: George Horn | April 28, 2011 12:52 PM    Report this comment

Trevor I love your example and couldn't agree with it more!! To Chris's comment about our justice system, I seem to recall a law professor from my undergrad days saying that anybody can sue anyone, anytime for anything. That was their right. Whether the judge allows a case to go forward is a different story. I think that smooth talking lawyers are a big problem in this case in particular. Insurance companies have also been a great hindrance on GA. When I was a student pilot I remember asking my instructor if we could actually perform a spin so I could go through the steps of recovery. The answer was "No". Their insurance company didn't allow it. Evidently spin avoidance was the only training requirement. This was disappointing to hear. I was further disappointed to learn that even instructors only have to go through one spin to the left and one to the right for their training. This mentality is driven by the insurance companies (and their lawyers) and like the training that Cirrus provides, is designed to keep you out of trouble. Not how to handle trouble once your in it. This is another reason why it's difficult to conceive that Cirrus's training program is to blame here.

Posted by: Dave Hammang | April 28, 2011 12:52 PM    Report this comment

I am the former president of the Lawyer Pilots Bar Associaton and I have handled muliple crash litigation cases. I write this comment after reading that the Corey Lidle vs. Cirrus case began this morning - blaming Cirrus for faulty control systems, when the FAA & NTSB both concluded that pilot error, egregious pilot error in my opinion, caused the unfortunate passing of the Yankee pitcher and his CFI.

So what are my thoughts? I am ashamed of my brethren - and as a Cirrus owner - affronted by the suggestion that my "girlfriend with wings" (wife's name for my SR22) would be accused of such mischief! I recall another such accusation against the design of the Piper J-3 Cub - another airplane design I am priviliged to own, that the 60 year old design was faulty because the pilot, sitting in the rear seat, couldn't observe an illegally parked truck on the runway!

The attorneys for Cirrus should have filed a motion for summary judgment, based on the longstanding common law principle of non - delegable duty. The FARs make the pilot in command the ultimate authority and this responsible for the operation of the plane. To suggest that this duty was somehow usurped by the maker of the plane because it attempted to offer a greater level of training is absurd, It would be akin to suing the medical school of a doctor who commits malpractice.

End of story and hopefully, the beginning of responsibility.

Posted by: MARTIN WEISS | April 28, 2011 12:57 PM    Report this comment

Mr. companies don't prohibit spins. Operators select/buy cheap insurance policies with addt'l restrictions....or perhaps some instructors are reluctant to spin airplanes. (I know a few models I personally refuse to spin...a few I won't even get into.) If you want to learn spins...find an operator/instructor who will teach them to you. Did you want to learn spins so much that you went elsewhere to learn? ...or did you simply take that instructor's word for it and give up on the matter?.. Now...who is it..REALLY...who kept you from learning spins? Huh?

Posted by: George Horn | April 28, 2011 12:57 PM    Report this comment

George, I have no problem with negligent people being held accountable, but I'm afread the negligence is in the hands of the pilot in command of the aircraft. Common sense just isn't that common anymore, you simply can't legislate against stupidity. It seems to me that no one want's to be held accountable. If the McDonalds employee spilled hot coffee on me and burned me, his fault, if the cup was badly manufactured and leaked on me, the manufacturers fault, but if I spill coffee on fault.

Posted by: Trevor Evans | April 28, 2011 2:12 PM    Report this comment

The problem with negligence is that it is in the eye of the beholders and the beholders (jury) is often sympathetic with plaintiff and are easily whooed, in an arena which they do not understand. to believe that the big bad evil corporation did something wrong. It often doesn't matter whether the wrong was the cause of the accident, just that there was some alleged "wrong" coming into evidence.

That everyone gets a day in court is all well and good, but why must someone else always pay? Even if there is a complete defense verdict, the taxpayers have paid for the court whereby the plaintiff could vent his/her spleen and the insurance pool, i.e. those who have insurance of any kind, pay thousands or millions in defense costs. The bar needs to be higher to get a case past the preliminaries and the plaintiff's attorneys need to have a little skin in the game. As it stands, there is no downside for a plaintiff's attorney to file any pack of lies, as there will be no sanctions for doing so.

I know, I make my living defending aviation cases.


Posted by: KRISTIN WINTER | April 28, 2011 5:54 PM    Report this comment

Look, there will always be two sides of this issue. As pilot we are responsible or we are not responsible for our action. None of of will make this issue go away when there is an accident. What is matter here is our legal system. Cases tried in the State courts where the juries have no idea what is being upheld in the FAR where we as pilots breath and live in. As long as there is this kind of system, the money, you and I pay to the insurance company will continue to get higher and higher with an occasional interruption of a cheaper competitor. That's really is it. More a pile of money from this member of the society to another. That's the legal system's job, to move the money legally instead of the appearance of highway robbery.

Posted by: Chin Tu | April 28, 2011 7:18 PM    Report this comment

George, I can't speak to all insurance companies, only the limited experience I have had with the FBO's that have told me "Our insurance company won't let us do that". This included exciting things such as spins to less exciting things like touch and go's. Perhaps it is because the FBO doesn't want to pony up the cash for the extra coverage or even possibly just used as an excuse for not wanting to teach me spins. Hard to say. Is an insurance company effectively prohibiting certain training aspects by making the attainment of such training more costly? Maybe not prohibitive for larger organizations that can afford the extra cost but for smaller ones perhaps? I can only speculate on what Cirrus' liability insurance costs are but I'm sure they're curtailed to some degree by offering training in their products before ownership is finalized. Regardless of that, I still believe that the pilot is ultimately responsible for the flight and that Cirrus is not to blame.

Posted by: Dave Hammang | April 28, 2011 8:38 PM    Report this comment

As for spin training, nobody kept me from learning them. I did seek out and complete an extensive Emergency Maneuver Training (EMT) course. Six consecutive days of being taught to recover the aircraft from many different scenarios including all of the different types of spins. A great course! I highly recommend that kind of training and wish it was mandatory for private pilot training. That said, if I died in an aircraft accident because I couldn't recover the airplane (as you pointed out, some planes just don't do well with certain maneuvers) I wouldn't expect my family to go after the folks who gave me my EMT training. It would have been my responsibility to know the limitations of the aircraft and the environment I was to fly in.

Posted by: Dave Hammang | April 28, 2011 8:40 PM    Report this comment

In Canada spin training is part of the PPL course, as is Spiral dive recovery and precautionary landings, for some reason they are not part of the FAA PPL requirement. On the other hand, you need a seperate rating to fly VFR at night, while night VFR is part of the FAA PPL, not a seperate rating. Therefore, in Canada insurance companies have to cover spin training or a flight school could not operate.

Posted by: Trevor Evans | April 28, 2011 10:11 PM    Report this comment

Ok, you must have to do something special for links add the http : / / yourself.

Posted by: John Liptak | May 3, 2011 8:37 AM    Report this comment

I too, am concerned about the recent ruling against Cirrus. From what I read above, the tragedy which lead to said court case was apparently the pilot's inability to cope with weather and visibility. Was Mr. Prokop no more qualified to launch, given the visibiliy conditions, than John F. Kennedy Jr. was on that tragic evening in 1999?

Nobody claims the Piper Saratoga retractible piston single that JFK Jr. owned, was a defective design. But will the case now under discussion in this thread, lead people to think there's something wrong with the SR-22?

Posted by: Alex Kovnat | May 9, 2011 8:59 AM    Report this comment

FAA issues the PPC at age 17 for a reason, you are more mature and "responsable", once I was asked by the FAA if was IFR rated, and I tell him "NO" i dont have and IFR airplane, ok my 182 is IFR, but do you really want to be on bad WX on that airplane, son as long as I have my old 82, im not geting the rating, i dont want to push my limits and because of having an IFR this one day im getting confident and eventually take off just to end in the aftermath pages of Plane and Pilot "The failure of the pilot....." sometimes the equipment will bite you!, I remember last year I got myself with a nice injection of hydraulic oil after attempting to remove a pressurized hose out af an excavator.... I'm thinking of giving a call to my lawyer about these CATERPILLAR!! NOT, My point is you are in command of your actions not only PIC but in life.

Posted by: joe kawage | May 11, 2011 9:52 PM    Report this comment

Joe, you are making too much sense. Today's world, the laws of nature can be changed, amended by our congress. Or if the lawyers get a hold of this, they can buy their opinions from too many willing and shameless "accident recreation experts" so the fault is all others but not the pilot who drove the finest flying machine into hard objects. Bottom line, it's only money we are talking about, you have and they want,life is too precious. Therefore, common sense goes out the window, let the deep pocket pay. That's the mentality of our jury.

Posted by: Chin Tu | May 11, 2011 11:55 PM    Report this comment

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