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Thread: Liability of flight instructing... is it worth it?

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    slowmover's Avatar
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    Liability of flight instructing... is it worth it?

    I'm a professional pilot with a family and all that goes with it to think about. I'm thinking of doing some flight instructing as a side job. I'm concerned about my liability exposure if I did that.

    I'm curious what other professionals who also instruct think about this topic. I know that CFI liability insurance is out there, but how much is enough? What other ideas do y'all have to limit a CFI's exposure? Liability releases, detailed notes and paperwork, strict adherence to standards, etc.

    Bottom line: is the enjoyment and small amount of extra cash I might get from instructing worth the risk?

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    Every pilot has to answer liability questions for themselves. For me, I got the insurance and I train people so long as their airplane is airworthy.
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    I’m retired. The money I have has to last the rest of my life. There’s no amount of insurance that can make me go back to instructing. So I’ll do a flight review for close friends now and then. Flight instructing is best done by young people with no assets. Once they emerge from poverty, time to move on.
    No, my job I retired from was not instructing.

    My opinion, as Bob says.
    Rich. CFII, CFIA
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    Taledrger's Avatar
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    As Troy said, It's a question only you can answer..

    I've limited my liability by limiting my type of training. I only do Tailwheel Endorsements and Flight Reviews.. I get my flight training "fix" (I really enjoy it) and limit my "liability". I'm not in it for the money..

    Recently, a "type Club" lost their "go to" Instructor AND their "go to" mechanic in a crash of the "Type".. I have a lot of experience with two of the Members. I was asked, to possibly become the new "go to" Instructor.. It would have been lucrative for a "retired" guy... Once I saw the litigation involved with the "accident", I respectfully removed myself from consideration..

    Everything is well and good until the "ambulance chasers" show up...
    Bob D
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    SJ's Avatar
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    I have instructed part time for the last twenty years and continue to do so. I've always carried instructor liablility, but more important, you have to be vigilant and diligent. Aviation needs seasoned instructors with lots of flying experience. The young folks I am working around now are awesome, but I often find I have things to add from having been around the block a few dozen more times than they have.

    I largely do advanced stuff, taildraggers and backcountry / off airport, which is, of course, the really fun stuff!

    sj
    "Often Mistaken, but Never in Doubt"
    ------------------------------------------
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    You need liability insurance with a tail! The only one with a tail that I know of is SAFE. It does not cover you in aircraft you personally own. Around $500/year for standard limits.

    Then, never set foot in an aircraft you cannot afford to buy. CFI hull insurance is expensive, and apparently tops out at $125K. What I do is get a waiver of subrogation from the owner before instruction begins. If the owner does not carry hull, get a written indemnification or something.

    Most instructors - and most mechanics! are simply unaware of the risk. For CFIs it is roughly twice as risky, and for mechanics more like ten-fifteen times the risk! Truly scary.

    Worse, if you have a valid CFI and are just a passenger, guess what?
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    Quote Originally Posted by bob turner View Post
    You need liability insurance with a tail! The only one with a tail that I know of is SAFE. It does not cover you in aircraft you personally own. Around $500/year for standard limits.

    Then, never set foot in an aircraft you cannot afford to buy. CFI hull insurance is expensive, and apparently tops out at $125K. What I do is get a waiver of subrogation from the owner before instruction begins. If the owner does not carry hull, get a written indemnification or something.

    Most instructors - and most mechanics! are simply unaware of the risk. For CFIs it is roughly twice as risky, and for mechanics more like ten-fifteen times the risk! Truly scary.

    Worse, if you have a valid CFI and are just a passenger, guess what?
    I work as a professional pilot and have some assets. I also instruct because I enjoy it and feel a good way to give back. I also get a Waiver of Subrogation from the insurance company who my customers use. It’s usually 2 simple emails. If your doing Private Pilot you may want to shop for CFI insurance. I am presently unaware of any instructor who was personally and successfully sued beyond her / his insurance limits. If anyone has more resources, please share.

    I usually remember that many people have and continue to help me with flying different types. Seems the right thing to do to help others.
    Last edited by flyinhood; 10-20-2020 at 09:09 PM.
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    Quote Originally Posted by SJ View Post
    I have instructed part time for the last twenty years and continue to do so. I've always carried instructor liablility, but more important, you have to be vigilant and diligent. Aviation needs seasoned instructors with lots of flying experience. The young folks I am working around now are awesome, but I often find I have things to add from having been around the block a few dozen more times than they have.

    I largely do advanced stuff, taildraggers and backcountry / off airport, which is, of course, the really fun stuff!

    sj
    I would think the liability exposure for the type of instructing Steve does is pretty low — limited to what happens when he’s in the airplane. When I smack into the side of a mountain, is my widow going to get anywhere saying, “Stu never would’ve tried something like that if Steve hadn’t ‘taught’ him?” Probably not, especially if Steve can get a couple of students to testify on his behalf.

    OTOH, Rich is exactly right; when I retire, the nest egg has to last the rest of my life. So I think I’ll sometimes be a helpful safety pilot, but never credentialed or paid.

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    again, I have never heard of a CFI who was successfully sued beyond their insurance amount. Get a Waiver of Subrogation and or insurance, fly, and sleep good at night.

    We have a ton of retired folks at my airport. Many were airline pilots. Almost zero instruct. I don't think they have weighed their risks. They just like to come out and tell stories. Meanwhile, many other people who legitimately want to learn are stuck with some kid who just learned how to spell CFI.
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    How often are CFI's sued? What kind facts usually generate the negligence claim? Do most claims arise from accidents with the CFI in the aircraft, or do they arise when the student goes off and does something stupid after training?

    I know after an accident that everybody who can get sued, gets sued. But is anyone aware of any big judgments against CFI's or are we really dealing with litigation costs?
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    Litigation costs will cost you your home! The reason premiums are only $500 is that this is not happening to every tenth pilot - it is rare, but possibly out of your control.

    There are real horror stories - just remember what the poster above said - an accident happens, a lawyer gets involved, and everybody gets sued, including the flight instructor that did the last flight review a year and a half ago. It isn't your buddy's wife's choice, really, it is the lawyer.
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    We are supposed to be scared of litigation and losing money but we fly little airplanes at high risk(relative to normies) to life and limb. Worrying about losing money but not your life is nonsensical, if you want to instruct go instruct.
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    CubCruiser's Avatar
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    Liability of flight instructing... is it worth it?

    Yes.
    Daryl Hickman, CFI
    N452SP American Legend Cub
    N161LC American Legend Super Cub Amphibian
    http://www.CubFlying.com
    http://www.KidsFlyCubs.org
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    RVBottomly's Avatar
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    We all have to make our choices. Ironically, I'm a lawyer working on becoming a CFI. It's not for the money, but for wanting to give back.
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    I took some on line college courses years ago, and one of them was aviation regulation. The instructor started the course by stating “risk is the price we pay for motion.” Later in my career when Safety Management Systems became the new shiny object, the emphasis was on risk management, not risk elimination as that’s not possible. Been discussed before, but we all have to decide what risks we are willing to accept, how much risk can be transferred through the purchase of insurance and how we feel about what can’t. No right or wrong answer in my opinion.

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    I would love to see a link anyone might have of a case where an instructor was successfully sued.

    While I was collecting info, before I made up my mind to teach, I found a rule where essentially you could successfully sue a Doc for malpractice, but you could not sue where she / he went to med school. The article said the same is true for flight instructing. If my student does something dumb after I sign him off that's on him.

    I have spoken to a few different insurance brokers and they almost 100% of the time when there is a loss, everyone settles for the limits on the insurance policy. I have never heard of a CFI who lost their house. Not saying it hasn't happened, but I have never heard of that.
    Last edited by flyinhood; 10-21-2020 at 04:42 PM.

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    Richgj3's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by flyinhood View Post
    I would love to see a link anyone might have of a case where an instructor was successfully sued.

    While I was collecting info, before I made up my mind to teach, I found a rule where essentially you could successfully sue a Doc for malpractice, but you could not sue where she / he went to med school. The article said the same is true for flight instructing. If my student does something dumb after I sign him off that's on him.
    True, but there comes a time in life where the smallest risk out weighs any potential reward. That point is different for everyone and changes as our life circumstances change. As Bob points out, you don’t have to lose a lawsuit to be negatively affected by it. I enjoyed many years of primary and instrument instructing. The risk today is no more or less than it was then. The reward is not the same. Not talking about money. I just don’t get the satisfaction anymore. So I’ll stick to fight reviews for people I know and the occasional tailwheel endorsement for pilots I know can fly. That’s not a big number in the general population

    Rich
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    Quote Originally Posted by Richgj3 View Post
    True, but there comes a time in life where the smallest risk out weighs any potential reward. That point is different for everyone and changes as our life circumstances change. As Bob points out, you don’t have to lose a lawsuit to be negatively affected by it. I enjoyed many years of primary and instrument instructing. The risk today is no more or less than it was then. The reward is not the same. Not talking about money. I just don’t get the satisfaction anymore. So I’ll stick to fight reviews for people I know and the occasional tailwheel endorsement for pilots I know can fly. That’s not a big number in the general population

    Rich
    I understand and I am glad you are still doing tailwheel and flight reviews. As I have a day job, I only instruct 15 or so hours a month. That seems to be the sweet spot of reward / enjoyment and "work". The retired crowd I see at my airport don't even give rides. They love telling you about their airlines stories though... nice guys, but not interested in giving back.
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    That's me - max ten hours a month. My liability insurance is the same as an instructor who does a hundred hours a month.

    If you are saying no instructor has ever been sued, I would put money on it that you are wrong. I will ask - I am sure Starr will have something to say about it.

    The way you lose your house is if you are not insured. You may win the lawsuit, but the attorney fees will kill you. Settling for the policy amount is usually the plan, because defending costs so darn much.

    Interesting discussion this afternoon - a buddy has a five million dollar umbrella policy (doesn't cover his Cub flying). If/when somebody sues, his insurance company, knowing they are at higher risk, assigns a better attorney! Think about that!

    If you go bare, ask yourself what kind of attorney you can afford to hire. Sure, the risk is low, and that's why pilot liability insurance is so affordable.

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    slowmover's Avatar
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    I would love to see a link anyone might have of a case where an instructor was successfully sued.

    Well, here's a story about a CFI that got sued, copied and pasted sans pictures from another website, which copied and pasted it from a magazine. Here's the link: https://www.beechtalk.com/forums/vie...p?f=7&t=135619.

    I appreciate the comments about instructing and risk assessment. As a pilot of a single-engine aircraft who occasionally operates in IMC and the backcountry (although not simultaneously) I am aware of the .01 risks. But I need to avoid the .1 and greater risks, for sure.

    What are the "riskiest" types of instruction? What if I limit myself to, say, tailwheel sign-offs or instrument instruction?

    Here's the story:

    The conditions were ideal for practicing glassy water landings on the idyllic North Idaho Lake: zero wind, overcast ceiling, and shoreline cabins reflecting onto the mirror surface. The downside to water work on this early spring day was the temperature factor—both the outside air and the water temps hovered around 40 degrees F. Only those raising money for a charity would want to take a “Polar Bear Plunge” in the lake that morning.


    As the CFI, I instructed the pilot/seaplane owner to recon and pointed out the small tugboat chugging across the water. The final pre-landing check was routine: GUMPS (gas both, undercarriage up, mixture rich, prop in, safety). The “U” was a little unique in this Murphy Rebel, as there was no gear position advisory system in the cockpit, no mirrors, and no contrasting colors for the indicators on the float decks. The only way to confirm the position of the wheels was to crank one’s neck and peer at the front gear. As I reported to the pilot, my side was up. He responded with what I thought was a confirmation, and turned final.

    Everything was going fine as I asked the pilot to add a little power to arrest the sink rate and make one more check on the gear. Fifty feet above touchdown, a peripheral look at the shoreline confirmed we were set up for a perfect flare. This would be one of those landings where a passenger might ask, “Are we down yet?” after the seaplane gently kisses the water surface than skims across the lake. That’s not the way this one turned out.

    “What the h…?!” Thinking we’d touched down a little bow first, I yanked the yoke into my lap and added power. Then it happened. Shards of Plexiglass flying, frigid spray rushing into my nose, seatbelts cinching into my gut and chest; we jerked forward violently into the waters of Hayden Lake.

    For what felt longer than a presidential debate, the plane held in the awkward position as water and avgas flowed into the cabin. The pilot got out quickly, inadvertently using my head as a step to accelerate the process. It’s funny—not “ha-ha” funny—but I wasn’t alarmed about the crisis at hand; maybe due to years of reciting the procedure for emergency egress to my many seaplane students, or maybe just because of the bang to my noggin.

    After taking a deep breath, I assessed the situation: my right arm wasn’t functioning and the right door was jammed closed—a bad combination. Headset cords were wrapped around me in a Houdini Water Torture Cell-sort-of-way and the cold began contracting my muscle functions. Looking out the broken windshield—now in line with my torso—as the fuselage began a slow, sickening forward rotation onto its back, the snow-capped Coeur d’ Alene mountains in the distance came into focus. A quick flash went to a trooper in Alaska who found himself in a similar situation on the Sandy River when his Super Cub wing strut failed on takeoff, 50 feet above the water. The Trooper pilot recalled that, all-in-all, the beautiful location was not a bad place to die. Those morbid thoughts were quickly put aside. Like the Trooper, I was going to get out, somehow.

    Keep calm


    Cold water shock takes over your body for a few minutes, resulting in hyperventilation. The rule is too keep calm and get your bearings, which is obviously easier said than done. Taking a deep breath, I dunked into the icy water and pulled on the lap belt that had twisted in the impact. The webbing had dug into my stomach and now was all that held me from being dropped into the panel. Forcing my cramped fingers to unravel the fabric and turn the buckle, I managed to free the belt. As I splashed into the water, the headset cords began floating and I pushed them aside. I was sort of swimming—dog-paddling—in the confined cockpit as the plane completed its tilt onto its back like a malfunctioning amusement park ride.

    Another frustrating attempt to open the passenger door revealed the water pressure hadn’t helped and it was still jammed. As I began thrashing toward the left door, the pilot asked me to get the airplane logbooks from the baggage compartment. Perhaps a strange intrusion on my path to survival, I nevertheless complied. Maybe because part of our business model is that customers always come first, I thoughtlessly diverted my swim and grabbed the binder containing the books.

    After reaching up and handing the logbooks to the pilot, I pulled myself onto the float deck with my good arm. Standing on top of the overturned float, shivering in chilly air and soaked to the bone, there were two positives in my evaluation of the scene: we are alive, and a little skiff was puttering toward us. A couple of Good Sams helped us aboard and turned their boat toward the nearby beach.

    I spent my career in Alaska, so I know cold. But standing in a fast-moving open boat, soaking wet, seemed colder than the one-hundred-below chill factor I remember one winter on the Western Peninsula tundra. On the shore, we were greeted by a particularly large and gruff deputy sheriff who insisted we stand there shaking until questioning for his lengthy report was completed. Maybe he wanted to ensure we were sober, maybe he just was a stickler for detail and didn’t think to ask if were okay. Maybe he didn’t realize we were drenched and without warm jackets like him, or maybe his badge was a little too heavy. But even though I pointed out that my friend had a roaring fire going in the house right next to the public beach and we could continue the conversation there, he was firm on the “freeze position.” Having retired from law enforcement, I asked him the only polite thing I could think of: “Would you please call your supervisor and confirm he wants two men who just survived a plane crash and are near hypothermic to stand outside in the elements, instead of meeting with your investigators in a warm house?” The deputy reluctantly made the call and we were granted inside privileges.

    Along with what seemed to be a squadron of deputies and supervisors asking the same questions over and over, a good friend who is an ER doctor showed up and did a quick evaluation. The pilot said he was fine. I “cowboyed up,” ignoring the pain in my shoulder and in my gut. Probably will go away by tomorrow, I figured. I declined his suggestion of a trip to the hospital.

    How could it have happened?

    Warming by the crackling fire, I began my first assessment. How could this have happened? I’d been seaplane flying for 40 years and never had a water accident. I insist on checklist usage and even wrote my master’s project on a training system based on checklists. Getting my senses together, I made the dreaded call to the FAA to report the accident, and the fun went up a notch.

    After my wife brought dry clothes and hot coffee to me and my student, the wonderful guy with the warm cabin and I began the recovery of the damaged plane. Fortunately, a tug boat with a crane was working on the lake and agreed to flip the plane upright and tow it to shore, the right nose gear awkwardly extended toward the sky. The first thing I noticed when the Murphy was pulled on the beach was leaking hydraulic fluid. The next was the gear selection, which was somewhere between up and the detent position.

    The FAA investigators snapped photos, took our statements, then left. I gave the student the keys to my truck so he could drive the 50 miles to his home, and told him I’d secure his plane. After a hot shower and a phone conversation with the Seattle NTSB office, I progressed on to the first stage of grief and loss: denial. There’s no way this could have happened. But it did, so I quickly progressed to the second stage: anger. How could I have been so dumb as to let this happen? Bottom line, I broke a couple of my own rules, which made me even madder at myself. I skipped the bargaining phase, and there’d be plenty of time for the depression part. I quickly progressed through those to the last phase: acceptance. We had an accident and knew there would be consequences.

    An analysis

    Since part of my job in Alaska involved responding to and preliminary investigations of airplane accidents, I will treat this as unbiased as I can—as if I was doing the investigation as an uninvolved third party. What follows are not my excuses, just the facts, admissions, and consequences of an accident.

    The plane

    Here’s what I knew before the flights: the Murphy Rebel was equipped with factory amphibious floats; there was no cockpit gear advisory system and no contrasting indicators on the floats; the only checklist were brief notes posted on the pilot’s side of the panel, not visible from the right seat; the gear selector marking was confusing and the handle was mounted upside down. Learned after the crash: with the cowling and wings off and the Murphy in a hangar, FAA investigators took more photos and documented construction issues (missing and un-bucked rivets, for example) in their report. It was determined the floats were installed without FAA approval, nor was documented flight testing conducted after the installation. Although there is no requirement for an advisory system on an experimental airplane, an FAA official stated that if the owner had gone through the approval process with his office, one would have been recommended. The float installation was done without adding the Murphy seaplane kit, which would have beefed up the firewall and potentially prevented some of the damage. Hydraulic fluid leaking on the hangar floor was traced to the gear system, backing up what was seen on the beach. Per the mechanics who inspected the system, the leak most likely caused the gear to slowly deploy, and since the mains were at the lowest point, they dropped first and the nose gear stayed up (we were only three miles from the airport and had just departed five minutes before the accident).

    The pilot

    Holding a Private Pilot certificate, the busy professional also owned a very fast wheel-plane, and when flying his experimental solo, was not required to have a seaplane rating. When I questioned the gear-selector issue, he said he’d handle the gear operation and further said he would be PIC in wheel operations (confusing, but legal).
    Our first lesson lasted 2.2 hours, and unlike most pilots I fly with on the first seaplane flight, he didn’t seem to enjoy the new adventure. There was a lack of feedback when I made suggestions or corrected him when he did something unsafe—like repeatedly failing to clear turns, even when near an airport. In the post-flight briefing, I gave him a list of things he needed to do to improve the safety of his plane, such as painting the markers on the floats contrasting colors, installing strut mirrors, and other low-cost fixes, but he didn’t comply. I’d reviewed the course book with him and asked him to study, but got the sense he hadn’t spent much time on that effort.

    The FAA’s Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge might call this “anti-authority.”

    The instructor

    Discussing flight instructors, Jamie Beckett wrote in General Aviation News, “When someone comes to you with an open mind, an outstretched hand, and a sincere request for help, it could be said we have a moral obligation to do our best to fulfill that need. Within reason, of course. We owe them good customer service at least.” I agree with Jamie’s concept, in theory.

    Relating to the accident, I think the FAA safety guys could put me in the “Invulnerability” category. Yep, I didn’t think it could happen to me, and that thinking probably led me to taking the unnecessary risks leading to the accident. I broke at least two of my own rules: don’t fly in an unsafe airplane, and restrict my instruction to students who are receptive, are excited about becoming a seaplane pilot, and are willing to dedicate the time to the rating.

    My longtime business model is to teach for fun, share the world of seaplaning with others, and not worry about the money part. My fee schedule was based on charging only enough to feed my seaplaning habit. The night after that first uneventful lesson, I showed my wife a photo of the student standing on the floats of his plane. She asked why he was frowning, since all the rest of my seaplane students were usually beaming, followed up by: “Why are you teaching him?” My answer was I felt that if I didn’t train him he’d kill himself in that plane. But no excuses, pure “Invulnerability.”

    I didn’t charge the student for the almost four hours of my time for the first day (or later). After the post-flight brief and giving the student his assignments, I drove from the airport hoping his schedule would preclude him from coming back and that he’d find an instructor closer to his home. (It was learned later he had started with another CFI at his home airfield, but left him for unknown reasons.) The summer season of seaplane instruction was just around the corner and there would be plenty of fun students in line for my little operation.

    Weeks later, the student called and pleaded for another lesson, saying he had just a bit of time in his busy schedule. He showed up at my hangar with none of the items on his plane addressed. I had a great chance to back out and send him home, but I broke my rule again, agreeing to fly with. After an hour of ground without much feedback and his inability to find his checklist, I had one more out, but I considered what could happen if I sent him on his merry way without more guidance. I gave up my last chance when he stated he would be PIC when taking off from the airport and off we went. When banking away from the uncontrolled airport, he seemed muffed when I corrected him for not clearing the turn toward Hayden Lake—I should have stopped the lesson right there and had him return to the airport. But I didn’t.

    It got worse

    In a perfect world, this misadventure could have ended with an apology from the student for his unsafe airplane and my kicking myself for ever climbing in it, but that’s not the world we live in today.

    Instead, the student surprised me with a lawsuit. Not a big problem, I thought–-I will turn it over to my insurance company. That’s when I learned the insurance company I’d switched to months before the accident, and which had repeatedly ignored my requests for a copy of the full binder, had inserted an exemption for not covering experimental aircraft. This was the first time I’d encountered that in my years as a CFI and I still have doubts of its validly. It eventually took the State Attorney General’s office to get a full copy of the policy, with threats of their legal action. Without insurance, I was on my own for financing my defense.

    When preparing for court proceedings, another bomb was dropped when we acquired a final NTSB report. The investigator correctly reported the gear issue, but made a “small” error: instead of accurately portraying my statement that I’d used “GUMPS,” but no checklist (since there wasn’t one), he wrote that neither had been used. When I called the working-from-home investigator for an explanation, he apologized, explaining he’d been suffering from a long illness. A call to his supervisor ended up with no change in his report, but allowing me to make a supplemental statement to correct the error. Still, it was the original report the plaintiff focused on in court. My side had a slew of witnesses and in-court support from Burt Rutan and other local students and seaplaners.

    My attorney, although lacking in recent trial experience, was a pilot. Their side’s main witness was one of those industry experts we see on the news after a major accident. Although he had no seaplane experience, he definitely knew how to communicate with a jury. Although not a pilot, the student was represented by an excellent trial attorney from the big city of Spokane who, in her closing argument (not subject to rebuttal), made me appear to be a barnstorming, reckless movie pilot. The jury, comprised of seven women and five men, found for their side.

    The rest of the story

    Medical issues: After nagging pain, a visit to my primary care physician resulted in referrals to specialists. MRIs revealed I’d torn my rotator cuff, a bicep muscle, and suffered a double hernia in the accident, requiring surgery by two doctors.
    After surgeries and months of physical therapy, I allowed myself to ponder my future—in between writing checks. I made the decision to give up flight instructing and restrict my commercial duties to those of a Designated Seaplane Pilot Examiner.
    Financial issues: the funds from the sale of my beloved amphib, along with another pile of cash, went to the attorney and the settlement. (The jury found the plaintiff partially responsible, so it could have been worse.)

    Lessons learned: (1) Take a dunk class like the one offered at Seaplane Safety Institute in Louisiana, or Aviation Egress Systems at Victoria, BC. (2) Don’t fly in an amphib that doesn’t have an adequate gear position advisory system. (3) Carry a seatbelt cutter in my PFD, now secured next to my floating Personal Locator Beacon. (4) Don’t just shop for the cheapest insurance – make sure you are covered for everything you do. (5) As a flight instructor, choose your students wisely. A CFI told me he conducts an interview process with potential students in which they must pass the “A.H.” test. If he feels they are an “A.H.” (perhaps it stands for “a handful,” but he didn’t clarify), he turns them down. (6) Heed the philosophy of Mark Twain’s quote, “If you hold a cat by the tail, you learn things that cannot be learned in any other way.”

    The student had further adventures. Last fall, while landing the Murphy he bought to replace the one from our accident, the student had another water accident on a lake resulting in damage and injuries to him and his passenger.
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    That was very good read. Thank you for posting. It sounds like a terrible scenario. I will be rechecking my CFI insurance to make sure all my activities are covered. I know 2 of the big providers cover all your legal fees.

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    Many years ago my Pitts mentor and best friend who was a CFII once had a guy show-up for one of those old $5 intro flights. Turned out he had decided an airplane accident was a good way to kill himself (along with my friend of coarse). My friend had to almost beat the guy to death before gaining control of the airplane. Of coarse it got complicated. The guy was charged with several criminal acts including attempted murder but alas managed to secure a lawyer who begain a process of various bogus suits against my friend which in the end he lost....

    Long story short. My friend who was also a long time gun nut started carying a gun with him at all times in an airplane with another person.....just in case. Now I can think of another use for it....after an accident.....like an AD with the gun pointed toward the student.......I don't know officer, the gun just went off.

    Back to reality. Like Bob Turner has cautioned for many years. Read and understand every detail of your insurance policy along with selecting your students with upmost care.

    I'm just glad there are still a few(getting fewer) who are still willing to "give back". I sincerely thank you. I've been saying for some time, between the FAA and the insurance companies, they will insure the death of GA in the not too distant future. Frankly I'm getting ready to bail out. I have one airplane for sale and thinking about selling the other one too. Both are E-AB. Selling them opens another giant can of worms. I've already decided against selling the Acroduster 2 to two fellows who simply scared the crap out of me over the phone......

    Oh well, be careful out there

    Jack
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    Quote Originally Posted by slowmover View Post

    Well, here's a story about a CFI that got sued, copied and pasted sans pictures from another website, which copied and pasted it from a magazine. Here's the link: https://www.beechtalk.com/forums/vie...p?f=7&t=135619.

    I appreciate the comments about instructing and risk assessment. As a pilot of a single-engine aircraft who occasionally operates in IMC and the backcountry (although not simultaneously) I am aware of the .01 risks. But I need to avoid the .1 and greater risks, for sure.

    What are the "riskiest" types of instruction? What if I limit myself to, say, tailwheel sign-offs or instrument instruction?

    Here's the story:

    The conditions were ideal for practicing glassy water landings on the idyllic North Idaho Lake: zero wind, overcast ceiling, and shoreline cabins reflecting onto the mirror surface. The downside to water work on this early spring day was the temperature factor—both the outside air and the water temps hovered around 40 degrees F. Only those raising money for a charity would want to take a “Polar Bear Plunge” in the lake that morning.


    As the CFI, I instructed the pilot/seaplane owner to recon and pointed out the small tugboat chugging across the water. The final pre-landing check was routine: GUMPS (gas both, undercarriage up, mixture rich, prop in, safety). The “U” was a little unique in this Murphy Rebel, as there was no gear position advisory system in the cockpit, no mirrors, and no contrasting colors for the indicators on the float decks. The only way to confirm the position of the wheels was to crank one’s neck and peer at the front gear. As I reported to the pilot, my side was up. He responded with what I thought was a confirmation, and turned final.

    Everything was going fine as I asked the pilot to add a little power to arrest the sink rate and make one more check on the gear. Fifty feet above touchdown, a peripheral look at the shoreline confirmed we were set up for a perfect flare. This would be one of those landings where a passenger might ask, “Are we down yet?” after the seaplane gently kisses the water surface than skims across the lake. That’s not the way this one turned out.

    “What the h…?!” Thinking we’d touched down a little bow first, I yanked the yoke into my lap and added power. Then it happened. Shards of Plexiglass flying, frigid spray rushing into my nose, seatbelts cinching into my gut and chest; we jerked forward violently into the waters of Hayden Lake.

    For what felt longer than a presidential debate, the plane held in the awkward position as water and avgas flowed into the cabin. The pilot got out quickly, inadvertently using my head as a step to accelerate the process. It’s funny—not “ha-ha” funny—but I wasn’t alarmed about the crisis at hand; maybe due to years of reciting the procedure for emergency egress to my many seaplane students, or maybe just because of the bang to my noggin.

    After taking a deep breath, I assessed the situation: my right arm wasn’t functioning and the right door was jammed closed—a bad combination. Headset cords were wrapped around me in a Houdini Water Torture Cell-sort-of-way and the cold began contracting my muscle functions. Looking out the broken windshield—now in line with my torso—as the fuselage began a slow, sickening forward rotation onto its back, the snow-capped Coeur d’ Alene mountains in the distance came into focus. A quick flash went to a trooper in Alaska who found himself in a similar situation on the Sandy River when his Super Cub wing strut failed on takeoff, 50 feet above the water. The Trooper pilot recalled that, all-in-all, the beautiful location was not a bad place to die. Those morbid thoughts were quickly put aside. Like the Trooper, I was going to get out, somehow.

    Keep calm


    Cold water shock takes over your body for a few minutes, resulting in hyperventilation. The rule is too keep calm and get your bearings, which is obviously easier said than done. Taking a deep breath, I dunked into the icy water and pulled on the lap belt that had twisted in the impact. The webbing had dug into my stomach and now was all that held me from being dropped into the panel. Forcing my cramped fingers to unravel the fabric and turn the buckle, I managed to free the belt. As I splashed into the water, the headset cords began floating and I pushed them aside. I was sort of swimming—dog-paddling—in the confined cockpit as the plane completed its tilt onto its back like a malfunctioning amusement park ride.

    Another frustrating attempt to open the passenger door revealed the water pressure hadn’t helped and it was still jammed. As I began thrashing toward the left door, the pilot asked me to get the airplane logbooks from the baggage compartment. Perhaps a strange intrusion on my path to survival, I nevertheless complied. Maybe because part of our business model is that customers always come first, I thoughtlessly diverted my swim and grabbed the binder containing the books.

    After reaching up and handing the logbooks to the pilot, I pulled myself onto the float deck with my good arm. Standing on top of the overturned float, shivering in chilly air and soaked to the bone, there were two positives in my evaluation of the scene: we are alive, and a little skiff was puttering toward us. A couple of Good Sams helped us aboard and turned their boat toward the nearby beach.

    I spent my career in Alaska, so I know cold. But standing in a fast-moving open boat, soaking wet, seemed colder than the one-hundred-below chill factor I remember one winter on the Western Peninsula tundra. On the shore, we were greeted by a particularly large and gruff deputy sheriff who insisted we stand there shaking until questioning for his lengthy report was completed. Maybe he wanted to ensure we were sober, maybe he just was a stickler for detail and didn’t think to ask if were okay. Maybe he didn’t realize we were drenched and without warm jackets like him, or maybe his badge was a little too heavy. But even though I pointed out that my friend had a roaring fire going in the house right next to the public beach and we could continue the conversation there, he was firm on the “freeze position.” Having retired from law enforcement, I asked him the only polite thing I could think of: “Would you please call your supervisor and confirm he wants two men who just survived a plane crash and are near hypothermic to stand outside in the elements, instead of meeting with your investigators in a warm house?” The deputy reluctantly made the call and we were granted inside privileges.

    Along with what seemed to be a squadron of deputies and supervisors asking the same questions over and over, a good friend who is an ER doctor showed up and did a quick evaluation. The pilot said he was fine. I “cowboyed up,” ignoring the pain in my shoulder and in my gut. Probably will go away by tomorrow, I figured. I declined his suggestion of a trip to the hospital.

    How could it have happened?

    Warming by the crackling fire, I began my first assessment. How could this have happened? I’d been seaplane flying for 40 years and never had a water accident. I insist on checklist usage and even wrote my master’s project on a training system based on checklists. Getting my senses together, I made the dreaded call to the FAA to report the accident, and the fun went up a notch.

    After my wife brought dry clothes and hot coffee to me and my student, the wonderful guy with the warm cabin and I began the recovery of the damaged plane. Fortunately, a tug boat with a crane was working on the lake and agreed to flip the plane upright and tow it to shore, the right nose gear awkwardly extended toward the sky. The first thing I noticed when the Murphy was pulled on the beach was leaking hydraulic fluid. The next was the gear selection, which was somewhere between up and the detent position.

    The FAA investigators snapped photos, took our statements, then left. I gave the student the keys to my truck so he could drive the 50 miles to his home, and told him I’d secure his plane. After a hot shower and a phone conversation with the Seattle NTSB office, I progressed on to the first stage of grief and loss: denial. There’s no way this could have happened. But it did, so I quickly progressed to the second stage: anger. How could I have been so dumb as to let this happen? Bottom line, I broke a couple of my own rules, which made me even madder at myself. I skipped the bargaining phase, and there’d be plenty of time for the depression part. I quickly progressed through those to the last phase: acceptance. We had an accident and knew there would be consequences.

    An analysis

    Since part of my job in Alaska involved responding to and preliminary investigations of airplane accidents, I will treat this as unbiased as I can—as if I was doing the investigation as an uninvolved third party. What follows are not my excuses, just the facts, admissions, and consequences of an accident.

    The plane

    Here’s what I knew before the flights: the Murphy Rebel was equipped with factory amphibious floats; there was no cockpit gear advisory system and no contrasting indicators on the floats; the only checklist were brief notes posted on the pilot’s side of the panel, not visible from the right seat; the gear selector marking was confusing and the handle was mounted upside down. Learned after the crash: with the cowling and wings off and the Murphy in a hangar, FAA investigators took more photos and documented construction issues (missing and un-bucked rivets, for example) in their report. It was determined the floats were installed without FAA approval, nor was documented flight testing conducted after the installation. Although there is no requirement for an advisory system on an experimental airplane, an FAA official stated that if the owner had gone through the approval process with his office, one would have been recommended. The float installation was done without adding the Murphy seaplane kit, which would have beefed up the firewall and potentially prevented some of the damage. Hydraulic fluid leaking on the hangar floor was traced to the gear system, backing up what was seen on the beach. Per the mechanics who inspected the system, the leak most likely caused the gear to slowly deploy, and since the mains were at the lowest point, they dropped first and the nose gear stayed up (we were only three miles from the airport and had just departed five minutes before the accident).

    The pilot

    Holding a Private Pilot certificate, the busy professional also owned a very fast wheel-plane, and when flying his experimental solo, was not required to have a seaplane rating. When I questioned the gear-selector issue, he said he’d handle the gear operation and further said he would be PIC in wheel operations (confusing, but legal).
    Our first lesson lasted 2.2 hours, and unlike most pilots I fly with on the first seaplane flight, he didn’t seem to enjoy the new adventure. There was a lack of feedback when I made suggestions or corrected him when he did something unsafe—like repeatedly failing to clear turns, even when near an airport. In the post-flight briefing, I gave him a list of things he needed to do to improve the safety of his plane, such as painting the markers on the floats contrasting colors, installing strut mirrors, and other low-cost fixes, but he didn’t comply. I’d reviewed the course book with him and asked him to study, but got the sense he hadn’t spent much time on that effort.

    The FAA’s Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge might call this “anti-authority.”

    The instructor

    Discussing flight instructors, Jamie Beckett wrote in General Aviation News, “When someone comes to you with an open mind, an outstretched hand, and a sincere request for help, it could be said we have a moral obligation to do our best to fulfill that need. Within reason, of course. We owe them good customer service at least.” I agree with Jamie’s concept, in theory.

    Relating to the accident, I think the FAA safety guys could put me in the “Invulnerability” category. Yep, I didn’t think it could happen to me, and that thinking probably led me to taking the unnecessary risks leading to the accident. I broke at least two of my own rules: don’t fly in an unsafe airplane, and restrict my instruction to students who are receptive, are excited about becoming a seaplane pilot, and are willing to dedicate the time to the rating.

    My longtime business model is to teach for fun, share the world of seaplaning with others, and not worry about the money part. My fee schedule was based on charging only enough to feed my seaplaning habit. The night after that first uneventful lesson, I showed my wife a photo of the student standing on the floats of his plane. She asked why he was frowning, since all the rest of my seaplane students were usually beaming, followed up by: “Why are you teaching him?” My answer was I felt that if I didn’t train him he’d kill himself in that plane. But no excuses, pure “Invulnerability.”

    I didn’t charge the student for the almost four hours of my time for the first day (or later). After the post-flight brief and giving the student his assignments, I drove from the airport hoping his schedule would preclude him from coming back and that he’d find an instructor closer to his home. (It was learned later he had started with another CFI at his home airfield, but left him for unknown reasons.) The summer season of seaplane instruction was just around the corner and there would be plenty of fun students in line for my little operation.

    Weeks later, the student called and pleaded for another lesson, saying he had just a bit of time in his busy schedule. He showed up at my hangar with none of the items on his plane addressed. I had a great chance to back out and send him home, but I broke my rule again, agreeing to fly with. After an hour of ground without much feedback and his inability to find his checklist, I had one more out, but I considered what could happen if I sent him on his merry way without more guidance. I gave up my last chance when he stated he would be PIC when taking off from the airport and off we went. When banking away from the uncontrolled airport, he seemed muffed when I corrected him for not clearing the turn toward Hayden Lake—I should have stopped the lesson right there and had him return to the airport. But I didn’t.

    It got worse

    In a perfect world, this misadventure could have ended with an apology from the student for his unsafe airplane and my kicking myself for ever climbing in it, but that’s not the world we live in today.

    Instead, the student surprised me with a lawsuit. Not a big problem, I thought–-I will turn it over to my insurance company. That’s when I learned the insurance company I’d switched to months before the accident, and which had repeatedly ignored my requests for a copy of the full binder, had inserted an exemption for not covering experimental aircraft. This was the first time I’d encountered that in my years as a CFI and I still have doubts of its validly. It eventually took the State Attorney General’s office to get a full copy of the policy, with threats of their legal action. Without insurance, I was on my own for financing my defense.

    When preparing for court proceedings, another bomb was dropped when we acquired a final NTSB report. The investigator correctly reported the gear issue, but made a “small” error: instead of accurately portraying my statement that I’d used “GUMPS,” but no checklist (since there wasn’t one), he wrote that neither had been used. When I called the working-from-home investigator for an explanation, he apologized, explaining he’d been suffering from a long illness. A call to his supervisor ended up with no change in his report, but allowing me to make a supplemental statement to correct the error. Still, it was the original report the plaintiff focused on in court. My side had a slew of witnesses and in-court support from Burt Rutan and other local students and seaplaners.

    My attorney, although lacking in recent trial experience, was a pilot. Their side’s main witness was one of those industry experts we see on the news after a major accident. Although he had no seaplane experience, he definitely knew how to communicate with a jury. Although not a pilot, the student was represented by an excellent trial attorney from the big city of Spokane who, in her closing argument (not subject to rebuttal), made me appear to be a barnstorming, reckless movie pilot. The jury, comprised of seven women and five men, found for their side.

    The rest of the story

    Medical issues: After nagging pain, a visit to my primary care physician resulted in referrals to specialists. MRIs revealed I’d torn my rotator cuff, a bicep muscle, and suffered a double hernia in the accident, requiring surgery by two doctors.
    After surgeries and months of physical therapy, I allowed myself to ponder my future—in between writing checks. I made the decision to give up flight instructing and restrict my commercial duties to those of a Designated Seaplane Pilot Examiner.
    Financial issues: the funds from the sale of my beloved amphib, along with another pile of cash, went to the attorney and the settlement. (The jury found the plaintiff partially responsible, so it could have been worse.)

    Lessons learned: (1) Take a dunk class like the one offered at Seaplane Safety Institute in Louisiana, or Aviation Egress Systems at Victoria, BC. (2) Don’t fly in an amphib that doesn’t have an adequate gear position advisory system. (3) Carry a seatbelt cutter in my PFD, now secured next to my floating Personal Locator Beacon. (4) Don’t just shop for the cheapest insurance – make sure you are covered for everything you do. (5) As a flight instructor, choose your students wisely. A CFI told me he conducts an interview process with potential students in which they must pass the “A.H.” test. If he feels they are an “A.H.” (perhaps it stands for “a handful,” but he didn’t clarify), he turns them down. (6) Heed the philosophy of Mark Twain’s quote, “If you hold a cat by the tail, you learn things that cannot be learned in any other way.”

    The student had further adventures. Last fall, while landing the Murphy he bought to replace the one from our accident, the student had another water accident on a lake resulting in damage and injuries to him and his passenger.
    Frankly, I’m amazed the FAA let him keep his DPE. Instructing in an unairworthy plane, etc....

    MTV

  25. #25
    JP's Avatar
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    America is an odd place. The fundamental philosophy currently being sold to its inhabitants is "nothing is your fault--someone else is to blame". This is reflected in the evolution of America's culture. Like a wise friend of mine from Finland recently said to me: America is the only nation that provides a 24/7 diet of sex, drugs and violence in its popular culture and then seeks to blame everyone else for the results. Smart man.

    If you are flight instructing you may want to consider the following ideas:

    1. Form an LLC, with some assets, an operating agreement, EIN number and separate bank account. Do not comingle funds or assets.
    2. Get damn good insurance. With a reputable company. Do not skimp.
    3. Do an engagement letter with each and every one of your students wherein they acknowledge the risk of flight training to their person and property and agree to indemnify and hold you harmless for any losses whilst instructing.
    4. Make sure you have a good lawyer and accountant who set up the company and the accounting for same. Do not use internet forms. Let them draft the stuff.
    5. When in doubt, don't. Got a bad feeling about someone who is inquiring about your services? A client who is pushing you beyond their capabilities? Don't do it. Dump them immediately. Listen to that little voice in your head. Especially as the volume increases.

    An ounce of prevention avoids a ton of the cure. And, as I heard a very wise friend say this week, when the takers outweigh the makers you need to stay as far away as possible from those dedicated to the redistribution of your life's work and wealth. Especially when feckless politicians have promised them the sun, the moon and your stars.

    And, of course, none of the above is individual or specific legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship. Seek professional legal and accounting advice from a professional of your choosing for individual advice.
    JP Russell--The Cub Therapist
    1947 PA-11 Cub Special
    www.bloomerrussellbeaupain.com
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  26. #26

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    Wow! And I thought I was being cautious!
    True - if you choose an LLC, make sure it is funded/insured. Otherwise, something called "piercing the corporate veil" can bitecha.
    Also, check your state law - a "professional" is personally liable for negligence, in California. I think. That would mean two insurance policies - one for the LLC and one for the CFI.
    You do not want to be so panicked that you forget to enjoy what you do on the planet. Check-out time comes fairly quickly, even if you hide behind the couch.
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  27. #27

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    Back when the Sport Pilot thing all came about I went and got the CFI-SP because I had some friends who wanted to learn to fly...I told them If they went and bought a Cub, or a champ, Tcraft....something LSA ...I’d instruct them for free...just to give back, and develop a flying crew to go eat hamburgers with....it was all good, me and one other Private Pilot got the SP CFI and in this way we had our group covered for Flight Reviews and we could add to the group if someone we knew bought an LSA Compliant plane...I occasionally give float instruction, Tailwheel and Ski training, but I have no interest in operating a business....I once thought perhaps in retirement, but not likely....I merely felt this was one way to give back to aviation and keep it amongst friends. It is a bit of a commitment to even get the SP CFI (The test and checkride are about the same as a normal CFI) only it’s done in an LSA same FOI test and there is no SP specific refresher so I take the same one as all of you every two years...no biggie. The lure of course was no need for Commercial and Instrument ratings to instruct....I can teach someone to fly a J3 without those things I guess. After reading all of this, and after 2 of my group died in a stall/spin accident a few years back...it doesn’t give me the warm feeling I had...I’ll still do Flight Reviews for my inner circle, but I don’t see being able to adequately protect myself doing pro bono flight instruction as I had once dreamed of in retirement....I’ll give back somehow, but giving primary instruction in retirement is probably not how.
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  28. #28
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    Both JP and Dan Gervae present very good food for thought for those who wish to perform "aviation" for the fun of it. Working full time as a CFI and/or an A&P/IA is one thing, then you move on to a more financially rewarding aviation occupation but continue to perform "aviation" for the "fun" of it. It is amazing how many "friends" one accumulates. After a while they become a big drain on your spare time. Your spare time isn't yours anymore. Just when you finish helping one "friend" another is waiting in the wings. Pretty soon you have to go back to your regular job and haven't done anything for yourself. Even though you wish and enjoy "giving back" it becomes a serious legal liability. Once you realize this and begin to cut back the extra curricular "making aviation", you will find that a large number of those who you thought were "friends" were in reality "enemies" to your well being. Some of them actually turn on you when you cut back on your version of friendship.

    I'm not suggesting do not. Just be very careful. Watch for those who may not be looking out for your best welfare.
    N1PA
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  29. #29

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    I charge for my services. Very few exceptions. One very good reason is that there are folks who are actually trying to make a living instructing. I keep my price at least as high as the highest price full-time instructor.

    My main motivation is introducing folks to the J3. That may stop when my partner puts $3000 worth of big tires on it - or maybe a $10/landing surcharge? (Not really; I will just swap back. Easier than a brake job.)
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  30. #30

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    One thing I do is require a Waiver of Subrogation. If the customer can't do that than I already know they are not appreciative of my time. Having said that, I have made many new friends and got to be around lots of different kinds of planes from instructing. I still have folks who call or text years later thanking me for helping them with what ever training we worked on. Working with young folks pro bono is probably my most favorite thing to do. Yes, there is a time commitment, but so is everything in life. Figure my funeral will be more interesting this way someday.

  31. #31
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    Quote Originally Posted by flyinhood View Post
    One thing I do is require a Waiver of Subrogation.
    Unless that agreement is with the person's insurance company (unlikely) it won't do much good. That is who will subrogate. Or at least that is how I understand it.

    sj
    "Often Mistaken, but Never in Doubt"
    ------------------------------------------
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    Yes, it is with the owners insurance company. I have the owner email their insurance company who than emails me asking for my quals. Usually a day later I get a letter and we go fly.

  33. #33

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    Me too. Been doing it for 15 years. Avemco calls it something else - I can look it up if anybody cares.
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  34. #34

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    I have additional insured and waiver of subrogation from the owners company. Additional insured gives you a level of coverage under their liability policy and waiver of subrogation, as SJ stated, means owners insurance company won’t try to recover their loss from you. At least I think that’s close...
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  35. #35
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    Many great comments and advice on this thread. This article I found lays out a 4-step process for protecting one's self against liability. I summarized it in case you don't want to read it.

    R -- Release: have a good one
    I -- Insurance: have it
    S -- Scrutinize: pay attention to details. Look carefully at the student, and follow a syllabus
    C -- Care/Caution: Be precise, follow details, do the log book carefully

    Anyway, I'm still thinking about instructing but I'm less excited about it than I was a few weeks ago! Maybe I need to find another way to give back that doesn't endanger the livelihood of me and my family.
    Last edited by slowmover; 10-27-2020 at 09:16 AM.
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    Another thing I will do is just a quick one page print off of everything we have done on a flight review. Than we both sign and date. I keep this sheet with the release after we are done flying if anything should come up in the future.

    I think the biggest takeaway is to have insurance. Everything else is nice to have but. But a policy that covers what you are doing will keep you out of the majority of risk and keep it fun!

    Remember helping others, making friends, and helping make our hobby safer is why we need you. " I got mine " doesn't help anyone.
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  37. #37

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    As those of you who can afford it give free instruction as a way to "give back," remember that if you are giving freebies to folks who can afford to pay, you are affecting the livelihood of professional instructors.

    If you want to "give back," it might be more effective to do some research and give $ to a good, reputable charity. I personally avoid those that involve $ for restoring and flying old airplanes as an adjunct to the basic charity.

    I am not so uptight that I make folks sign away their rights or sign the syllabus, but I am very careful about logbook entries. I write "emphasis on checklist usage" fairly often, and on at least one gear up incident, having that in a logbook kept me out of court.

  38. #38
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    FWIW, when I said "give back," I was not thinking no charge. I was thinking that some places, like our area, need instructors, period.

    I've done enough pro bono work to realize that many won't value a service unless they pay for it.
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  39. #39
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    Quote Originally Posted by RVBottomly View Post
    FWIW, when I said "give back," I was not thinking no charge. I was thinking that some places, like our area, need instructors, period.

    I've done enough pro bono work to realize that many won't value a service unless they pay for it.
    Then when you cut back on the pro bono work for whatever reason, that is when you find how friendly those receiving your generosity really are. It is amazing how they were friends until you stopped giving your time away.
    N1PA
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  40. #40

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    There are many reasons to "give back" by instruction. Fear of liability is easily soothed by having an appropriate insurance policy.

    My opinion:

    WE DON'T HAVE ENOUGH TAILWHEEL INSTRUCTORS. The safer the hobby is the less accidents, ground loops, and insurance hikes we'll see. If you want to fly with others for charity or whatever, that's your business.

    Personally, I charge adults. The youth I fly with typically come from single parent homes and are just excited to fly. They are on the house with payment for cleaning planes and helping change oil and stuff.

    I wasn't born with a full logbook. Other people helped me along the way. I try to remember that.
    Last edited by flyinhood; 10-27-2020 at 10:01 PM.
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