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Macon Aero Modelers Safety News August 13, 2006

From the President

Bob 'Commodore' Wilson

            "Lest anyone thinks that no one gets sued in our quiet community I invite them to read the ads in the Yellow Pages and notice just how many hungry lawyers there really are around here advertising for all sorts of injuries that they would like for you to sue for if only you will hire them. Not sure why but the local paper publishes a lot of arrest records but you rarely see anything about on-going lawsuits. Lawyers have the biggest and best ads in the Yellow Pages.

            Let me tell you that AMA was happy to be able to get any insurance renewed at all a couple of years ago and given recent occurances, it may become even tougher.

            Your Homeowners Policy covers liability for whatever amount you buy and of course you may buy more than the standard policy limit if you wish. If you do something negligent, your Homeowners Policy is the first line of defense and is your primary insurance carrier. Many pilots don't understand this but the fact is that the AMA insurance program is only in excess of other liability insurance you may have, usually your Homeowners.

            By the way, you can help AMA's insurance program by buying higher liability limits on your Homeowners Policy.

            In the event you are involved in a crash where someone or something is injured or damaged, the first question that will come up is whether or not you were negligent. Did you properly check your equipment before flight, did you do a range check, were your batteries charged, were they properly secured, did you have a cold solder joint on your wiring, did you cause an accident because you got on someone else's frequency? The list can go on and on and you can be sure that in the event of an accident, all these questions are going to come forward and you had better be prepared for them in front of a jury. In the past couple of years, I've watched two incidents where a newcomer to flying said that he had soloed and in both cases, they crashed, one in the pit area and one in the nursery next door. Could the club have been held responsible if someone had been injured and we failed to make the newcomer prove he was capable of flying the model aircraft in question? You betcha sweet bippy, we could.

            There are times when our equipment fails. An RX simply quits working, a switch fails or a battery pack developed a short and quit working. Do we have recovery against the manufacturer? Yep, we do. But usually the expense of going after the Manufacturer or Dealer who sold the product is not worth the expense unless there has been a serious accident where someone was injured. Manufacturers are held to a higher degree of perfection than we as individual pilots are. If equipment failure is involved, both the manufacturer and the dealer who sold you the item are held strictly liable under current Product Liability laws. The Dealer and Manufacturer do have some defense, however, as for intance you did something dumb like sticking your hand into a prop or used the wrong charger to charger your Li-Po batteries. It is legally assumed that the product they sold you was safe to use and not inordinately dangerous.

            Keep in mind that almost all of our RC flying poses some risk, to you or someone else. Our sport and its followers accept the small risk but stuff does happen. Not to drag out some of my old stories, I was flying at another club in Florida and a friend of mine was flying a gas powered Chipmunk which probably weighed 25 pounds or so and his main wing spar broke and the model crashed not ten feet from me. It turns out he had bored out lightening holes in the main spar near the wing root and of course it finally let go. Busy flying my own airplane, I didn't even see it coming.

            I really don't like writing about this sort of thing. It somehow casts a gloomy spell over things that should otherwise simply be nothing more than fun. Unfortunately, reality must prevail and we, and that is all of us, must do our utmost to prevent accidents before they happen. Hopefully, I have cast some light on the legal aspects of the problem and encourage all of us to be as careful as possible." Check and double check. And check again.

            Additional Update Information

            "On page 97 In the August issue of Model Aviation there is an article about liability insurance under your Homeowners written by D.B. Mathews and it makes the point that your Homeowners Insurance carrier may try to deny any claim you may have under the Aviation Exclusion Clause, taking the stand that model aircraft fall under that exclusion.

            If they refused to pay a claim you may have, the claim would fall entirely on the AMA insurance program and if all insurance companies could get away with this, your AMA insurance would probably costs upwards of several hundred dollars a year instead of what we currently pay.

            Around 1989 or thereabouts, and if my memory serves me correct, the Preferred Mutual Insurance Company tried to deny a model aircraft claim and the case ultimately went to a higher court who decided that model aviation did not fall under the Aviation Exclusion and that the insurance carrier had to pay the claim. This effectively, and hopefully once and for all, established a precedent and although a carrier may try to wiggle out of paying this type of claim, it would be sheer folly since they realize that it could expose them to a bad faith claim.

            I would assume that AMA headquarters are aware of the legal precedent.

            Regardless, D.B. Mathews is very correct to advise all of us to write directly to the insurance carrier to confirm whether or not they consider model aviation to be under their Aviation Exclusion and get it in writing.

            He is also correct in advising you to not take the Insurance Agent's word for it because they often don't have the authority to make a binding decision for the Insurance Carrier."


           Bob Wilson


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