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An Unprotected Pilot Can Lose Everything

Posted 11 years 1 days ago ago by Admin


Plot Liability Insurance

An Unprotected Pilot Can Lose Everything

By Lyn Burks

Did you wake up today and think to yourself, “I will go to work and crash my helicopter?” Writing it looks absolutely ridiculous and I am sure that it reads equally ridiculous. Although no one plans an accident, I am confident that we can all agree that accidents do happen. Given that several occur each month, we can also agree that they occur on a regular basis.

The problem is that none of us, including me, has an impending feeling that it will actually happen to us. We spend most of our time engaging in activities designed to prevent accidents. Risk assessment, quality assurance, training, and maintenance are examples of some of the direct activities we do to prevent accidents.

Preventative activities aside, have you ever thought about what your life would be like immediately following an accident? Assuming you are still alive when the rotors stop turning and the dust settles, you will instantly embark on a roller coaster ride involving emotions, administrative tasks, and some unwanted time in the spotlight. If serious injuries or a death occurs in association with the accident, things are bound to get even more complicated.

Emotions such as shock, fear, and guilt will initially settle in, and in most cases the pilot’s confidence will be much shaken. Additionally, there will be relentless scrutiny by your company, your boss, the helicopter owner, the insurance company, the media, as well as the NTSB. All involved will be looking for someone, or something to point the finger of blame. Generally speaking though, the emotions and the initial inquiry will be short lived and life will slowly get back to normal.

The dark cloud looming however, will be the questions of liability. Who will pay for the helicopter? Who will pay for personal or property damages? Will there be a lawsuit filed, and who will be suing who will become the questions of the day. As a working contract pilot, I have often wondered if I have an accident --- whether it is my fault or not --- could I financially withstand a lawsuit? What if I am named personally in a lawsuit and neither the company for whom I was flying, or their insurance underwriter has my back? Could I be financially ruined trying to defend myself in a liability lawsuit? The answer is YES!.

Due to their nature, helicopter accidents can result in expensive property damage, death or life altering catastrophic injuries.

If you read the headlines, you’ll see that millions of dollars have been awarded in liability lawsuits. Alarmingly, helicopter pilots are increasingly being named personally as defendants in lawsuits. Under certain legal doctrines, like Res ipsa loquitur, there can be a presumption of negligence in many of these aviation cases.

One case involved a helicopter pilot who was flying a helicopter for a company that had volunteered for the search and rescue of a lost child. After the helicopter crashed during the search resulting in the death of a passenger onboard, a lawsuit was filed not only against the helicopter company, but also against the pilot, individually.

Once such a civil lawsuit is brought, it can take several years and hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees, expert witnesses, and investigative costs before the case even gets to trial in the initial trial court. From there, it can take several more years of expensive litigation if one of the parties appeals the lower court’s decision.  These financial costs do not take into account the ongoing long term emotional stress and even marital problems resulting from the unrelenting worries of whether legal costs or an eventual judgment may result in the loss of personal assets such as the family home.

Another case involving a helicopter flying into a power line, killing a passenger onboard, resulted in a lawsuit being filed against the power company, the owner of the helicopter, and the pilot individually. While a helicopter owner’s insurance normally provides a defense for the pilot, it does so only up to the point where there is no conflict of interest and only up to the limits of the company’s insurance policy. There are limitations, exclusions, and gaps contained in these policies that can leave the pilot either unprotected altogether or render him without coverage right in the middle of a lawsuit. The pilot is in the best position to protect himself if he retains his own lawyer and maintains his own personal liability insurance coverage.

What would you do if you were sued?

As aviation professionals, the thought of not having a plan for every eventuality contradicts everything we know. It takes skill and discipline to become a helicopter pilot. That same discipline should be applied to your liability insurance protection because being protected is critical to your career. Every pilot should maintain his own individual liability insurance in case he is sued by an injured third person, as well as legal liability protection for non-owned aircraft. Maintaining the right insurance coverage is just as important as maintaining the working parts of your helicopter itself! 

Pilots who rent or borrow someone else’s helicopter may think they are protected because the owner has coverage, but that coverage may not protect the pilot. Fractional owners of a helicopter should have customized plans as well. Student renters may feel they are covered under the training facility’s plan, but such coverage is limited and will not cover the student’s individual expenses. So, even though student pilots may think they are protected because they’re flying with their instructor, there are gaps and exclusions in coverage that will place that individual student pilot at risk of being sued and held liable for an accident and the resulting damages and injuries. Of course, the Certified Flight Instructors themselves need their own personal liability coverage for the same reasons that they may not be covered, or adequately covered, under the aircraft owner’s restrictive policy.

Personally, I am a contract pilot for a utility company, working on a day rate. Currently in my mid 40’s with a family, home, and assets, I feel it’s important to have a personal liability policy. I especially wanted one that specifically provided me coverage unique to my job as a helicopter pilot. Initially, my search yielded no solutions that were specific to my work or what I would consider to be cost effective.

In past years, I have seen some organizations attempt to offer pilot liability policies, however at $2 – 3K per year, they seemed just out of reach of most working helicopter pilots. After some digging, I did find one company, XINSURANCE, who offers coverage tailored to helicopter pilots. With price points near $500 per year, I’m provided both cost effective coverage --- and peace of mind.

XINSURANCE entered the insurance marketplace because it identified helicopter pilots as a group in need of individual liability protection. Rick Lindsey, the company’s Chairman, CEO, and President, is a helicopter pilot himself and has over 30-years experience providing solutions in the specialty insurance marketplace.

The XINSURANCE team of skilled underwriters and seasoned pilots can provide you with a plan to help protect your personal assets and defend you in the event you are sued. You should contact XINSURANCE today to find out more about their unique “Partnership Approach” to insurance and to defending frivolous lawsuits.