Liability and the CFI: Are you covered?

May 13, 2011

Liability is an ever-changing and—it seems—ever-growing part of aviation business in general and flight instructing in particular.

Thirty-five years ago I worked in dealer development for a Piper distributor called Montgomery Aviation. We stocked new airplanes for all of our dealers, and we regularly flew them on short hops, just to get the engine heated up as recommended by the manufacturer. My wife and I taught what the Presbyterian Church called Senior High Fellowship students every Sunday night. I often invited the teenagers to come along on the rides (one of them, by the way, is today a corporate jet pilot).

Here’s the interesting thing—neither I nor the company felt it necessary to get written permission from the parents before I took those kids up. We knew most of the parents, of course, and they knew we were flying their sons and daughters, but I don’t remember clearing the flights with a single one of the parents.

Today I sometimes work with the teens in my current church. We feel it necessary to get written permission from the parents to video record the annual Christmas skit. Have churches changed that much? No, but they are reacting to the changing attitude toward liability of every sort, and so does the aviation industry.

When I started selling aviation insurance in 1972, the carrier told us that product liability insurance was going to be the wave of the future. At that time product liability (PL) was little known in the industry. (If a shop repaired an airplane, for one example, PL provided coverage if the customer crashed the airplane and sued the shop, claiming the “faulty” repair caused the crash.)

The insurance carrier was right. Shortly thereafter most FBOs, repair stations, avionics shops, and just about everything else that provided a service or product to a customer started carrying PL insurance. Why did PL get so popular? Because more people sued. Again, it was a change in the attitude toward liability.

So, how does this change in attitude affect the CFI? There are many ways, and it’s important to protect yourself. For example, are you really covered for liability under your flight school’s insurance? Or are you just a “named” or “approved” pilot? There’s a big difference. In the latter case, the policy might read that yes, the flight school is insured when you are instructing in the school’s airplane, but you are not. In some cases the insurer might pay the flight school and then try to collect from the CFI for the amount loss. Some schools, but not all, have policies that do provide liability to protect CFIs.

These are things you should know. You might ask your school, but be advised that some schools do not know themselves. Better yet, you might get the name of the agent that handles the school’s policy. That agent certainly should know.

But first, go to AOPA. Did you know that AOPA has info just for CFIs? “ CFIs: Protect yourself and your livelihood” has information provided specifically for you.