More Lawsuit Foolishness

March 18, 2009 by Bruce Landsberg

Press reports last week noted that the family of Cory Lidle, the NY Yankee ball player who crashed in October 2006 while trying to reverse course in a tight Class B corridor in NY, is suing Cirrus Design for $45 million in lost wages that he might have earned. The premise is that a flight control system malfunction caused the SR20 to slam into the side of a building. The NTSB found no evidence of control system anomalies but the attorney pursuing this theory claims that the design is defective and cites several examples that, in my opinion, have no bearing.

There will likely be reference to a crashed prototype aircraft that suffered aileron binding during certification – the test pilot was lost but the problem was identified and fixed. Guess I’m confused but I thought that’s what flight test was all about. Another Cirrus, an SR22, was lost after coming out of maintenance. The flight controls were misrigged and the pilot had to pull the chute. So far, design doesn’t seem to be an issue but there are highly paid experts in many of these cases who are willing to rationalize almost anything for a buck.

Forgive me for being a bit cynical and why should we care? Short answer – because it distorts both the safety and economic equation. Manufacturers should absolutely be held accountable for dangerous design and pilots should bear responsibility for their mistakes, as painful as that might be. Even if Cirrus ultimately prevails, for the right reasons, we all lose because they have to defend the case or their insurance company may choose to settle for a lower sum because that’s cheaper than the litigation. Either way, the cost of doing business and what we pay for each aircraft significantly increases to enrich the family and the attorney even though the aircraft was not a factor in the accident.

As a philosophical point, my opinion whenever there is a design flaw, is that actual damages should be awarded to the family and punitive damages, if any, should go to fixing the problem for the rest of the fleet.

I am confused by this whole “truth and justice” thing. Opportunistic lawsuits clearly seem to be the American Way.

Your thoughts?

Bruce Landsberg
Senior Safety Advisor, Air Safety Institute

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