When I was young, I used to watch the TV series Dragnet. One of the famous lines from that series was “The facts, ma’am, just the facts.”
But today the question has become what are the facts and whose facts are correct?
When I watch the news, on almost every issue, one party will show facts and/or data showing their side and the other party will show just the opposite. So, which one is correct? Well kind of sort of both.
The example I give is on fuel economy in an automobile. Since I am considered a leading expert on automotive fuel economy, people will ask me if adding 10% ethanol to mogas will help or hurt the fuel economy of their cars.
If someone offered to hire me to run tests to document this, I would have to think to myself, what answer do I need here?
If it is the corn growers’ association paying for the test, I would need to show the benefits of ethanol. If it is the petroleum industry paying for the test, I would need to show the disadvantages of ethanol. So just by the design of the test, I could get whatever result I desired and it would be statistically significant.
This manipulation of the “facts” plays a big part in general aviation and the cost of liability insurance today.
A few years ago, I heard a talk by a representative of Cessna Aircraft Co. He claimed that the liability premiums they pay for every aircraft the company produces was around $250,000. If they built an airplane that cost $150,000 to make, Cessna would have to sell it for over $400,000 just to make a profit. This added cost is in almost everything you buy in aviation.
The cause of this increase is the cost of legal fights and jury awards.
Unfortunately, in many aircraft accidents, there are no survivors. This means that at a trial, the case will be decided on the merits or believability of the expert witnesses and the attorneys. They will present “facts” as they see them.
I have not been involved in a lot of cases, but in the cases I have been involved in, this scares the hell out of me. I have seen people I have dealt with for many years come up with the wildest theories about what happened or their opinion of the “facts” in some simple cases. Many of these theories I know are improbable or downright impossible.
The jurors, who usually are selected because they have little technical knowledge, are left to judge on the acting ability of the expert witnesses and attorneys.
There is the question of who will win and who will lose in this situation. Well, the attorneys and expert witnesses win and all of GA loses.
When I retired from Shell, our legal department estimated that it cost about $40,000 to win an air-tight case — and more if the opposing attorney was good or there were some out-of-line “facts.” It can easily get into the millions with the right judge.
There are a lot of attorneys who will file a nuisance lawsuit and hope the company will easily pay just $20,000 and save the other $20,000.
The bottom line is that all of these costs hurt GA.
One of the ways it does this is by killing the development of new technology. The powerplants we use today are basically without major changes since the 1930s and 1940s. So much has changed since then that could benefit GA with easier use and better controls.
But as long as we have people like the ones who sue a manufacturer because the engine quit when he ran out of gas and there was no placard stating that that would happen, the new technology the industry needs will not happen.
That is just the nature of the beast, but not a good reason to stay in the past and not move forward.