A few months ago I spent an evening with some friends I had not seen for a while. After a few bottles of a fine Merlot, we discussed most of the world’s most pressing problems.
The conversation covered many points, including the accident in a commercial jet liner when an engine exploded and a piece of the engine hit the fuselage, killing a passenger in a window seat.
My take on the accident was of course sadness for the loss of the passenger, but also great admiration and respect for the pilot who controlled the aircraft and saved all of the other passengers and crew. A true hero.
The other people in the conversation were all trained professional people, but their take on the incident was that the accident was entirely the fault of the airline. And that the airline and aircraft manufacturer were liable for the accident and will need to pay her family a lot of money.
Their reasoning was that the only cause for failure would be lack of or improper maintenance.
Their thought: All accidents are preventable, so if something fails, it means that the airline has not done its job of maintaining the aircraft properly.
I have been working on or with mechanical things for my entire career. I feel that once a machine is put into service, it is a downhill slide to failure. The only question is how long it will last and when is the most inconvenient time for it to fail.
You may be wondering what this has to do with general aviation.
These are the same type of people who work for the general news media and vote. But the real problem for GA is that these people also serve on juries.
If a company is being sued for an aircraft crashing because it ran out of gas, the prosecuting attorney is going to look for these types of people to sit on the jury. When the trial starts, the defense already has two strikes against it and has a real uphill fight just to get to a level field.
An additional problem is that most young people have absolutely no knowledge or interest in how an aircraft engine works. Since aircraft engines are based on 1940’s technology and most cars use 2018 technology, talking about technical problems in aircraft like leaning the carburetor or checking the mags is completely foreign to them. It is like talking in Latin to most people. This means that a defense attorney has to do a complete college course on engines just to get a simple point across.
Unfortunately, logic and common sense do not play a role in most trials. Many attorneys are now taking acting lessons and are getting very good at playing on the emotions of jury members.
When you combine this with a jury pool that thinks you are in the wrong from the very start, it is easy to understand why companies lose cases and why general aviation liability insurance is so high.
When a jury rewards a huge sum of money to a plaintiff even though the accident was no fault of the manufacturer, the GA community loses.
Even when the bill is paid by an insurance company, the cost always comes back to us in increased cost of parts and services.