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Liability as an Instructor - How to Minimize It?

 

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velvetjo  (D License)

Jul 9, 2008, 10:26 AM
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Liability as an Instructor - How to Minimize It? Can't Post

I'm considering getting a tandem rating soon, and my wife raised a few good questions about liability the other day that made me stop & think a bit. I'm already a videographer, USPA Coach and IAD-I, but tandems seem to bring on a whole new level of potential liability due to the constant exposure to a stream of somewhat random students/passengers with varying levels of physical & mental ability. This wasn't as big a deal for me a few years ago, but with a toddler now and some assets to protect, it's got my attention.

I'm interested in what you folks do as TI's to minimize your exposure. I understand that the DZ's waiver is the first line of defense, but what other steps do you take to protect yourselves?

Some obvious steps seem to be:

- complying with established manufacturer's procedures and equipment SB's
- following BSR's and other USPA and DZ guidelines & procedures

What about incorporation of skydiving activities as an LLC? Use of "uninsured" in the corporate name as RWS did? Do you use these or other tactics to protect yourself personally?

I dislike having to even ask these questions, but I'd hate to see my little guy without a college fund because some bozo didn't lift their legs during a landing and wound up getting hurt.

Lance


BIGUN  (D 23385)

Jul 9, 2008, 3:14 PM
Post #2 of 68 (4241 views)
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Re: [velvetjo] Liability as an Instructor - How to Minimize It? [In reply to] Can't Post

Quote:
I dislike having to even ask these questions, but I'd hate to see my little guy without a college fund because some bozo didn't lift their legs during a landing and wound up getting hurt.

I'm just being up front here... if that is your concern, you should surrender all your ratings. Defending one lawsuit - even if found for the defense (you), could cost you the little guy's college fund in legal fees. I remember asking Appleton (RIP) why he didn't do AFF/I any more... "Attorney friend kinda pointed out to me how much I could lose even if they were wrong."


(This post was edited by BIGUN on Jul 9, 2008, 3:15 PM)


jdthomas  (D License)

Jul 9, 2008, 4:12 PM
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Re: [velvetjo] Liability as an Instructor - How to Minimize It? [In reply to] Can't Post

 duty, duty to act and breech of duty.. scarey stuff!

Is the risk worthy of the reward?

I just gave up all my ratings this year and will never take those on again.

Joe


AggieDave  (D License)

Jul 9, 2008, 5:04 PM
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Re: [velvetjo] Liability as an Instructor - How to Minimize It? [In reply to] Can't Post

You can minimize your civil liability footprint by adhering to not just the FARs, the BSRs and the manufacturer's recommendations, but by also trying to stay with in the norm of what is acceptable procedure by the industry.

That won't completely protect you, but it will really help when you're sitting in front of the judge.


Andrewwhyte  (C 1988)

Jul 9, 2008, 9:30 PM
Post #5 of 68 (4104 views)
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Re: [velvetjo] Liability as an Instructor - How to Minimize It? [In reply to] Can't Post

I feel I am way more exposed doing IADs than tandems.


velvetjo  (D License)

Jul 10, 2008, 6:50 AM
Post #6 of 68 (4028 views)
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Re: [BIGUN] Liability as an Instructor - How to Minimize It? [In reply to] Can't Post

There's some truth in what you're saying, although I don't think I'm prepared to give up on instructing. There are plenty of DZO's who surely face similar (and worse) challenges and have managed to stay in business for a long time.

I'll have to look into college savings funds and see if they offer any kind of firewall from the parents' liability. Another option might be a trust of some sort.

Lance


velvetjo  (D License)

Jul 10, 2008, 6:53 AM
Post #7 of 68 (4027 views)
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Re: [jdthomas] Liability as an Instructor - How to Minimize It? [In reply to] Can't Post

In reply to:
Is the risk worthy of the reward?

I just gave up all my ratings this year and will never take those on again.

That's exactly the crux of it. Did you have a specific reason for not renewing ratings, or was it the general climate?

Lance


velvetjo  (D License)

Jul 10, 2008, 7:02 AM
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Re: [Andrewwhyte] Liability as an Instructor - How to Minimize It? [In reply to] Can't Post

In reply to:
I feel I am way more exposed doing IADs than tandems.

Interesting. My thought is that the solo student's independent actions during an IAD would muddy the waters of direct responsibility a lot more than something like a botched tandem landing where the instructor is in control. I'm curious as to why you feel it's the other way around.

However, as Bigun pointed out, that discussion might not really be relevant in the big picture. In for a penny, in for a pound, no? Wink

Lance


velvetjo  (D License)

Jul 10, 2008, 7:03 AM
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Re: [AggieDave] Liability as an Instructor - How to Minimize It? [In reply to] Can't Post

Good point! Thanks,

Lance


peek  (D 8884)

Jul 10, 2008, 7:12 AM
Post #10 of 68 (4012 views)
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Re: [Andrewwhyte] Liability as an Instructor - How to Minimize It? [In reply to] Can't Post

In reply to:
I feel I am way more exposed doing IADs than tandems.

Perhaps, but here is something to think about. Solo students are expected to learn how to make decisions about their own safety. Tandem students often assume that the instructor "will take care of them" and that they have no responsibilities. (And few drop zones promote tandem skydives as anything else.)

(Edited to add: I now realize this comment is much like a previous one in the thread.)


(This post was edited by peek on Jul 10, 2008, 7:15 AM)


SimonBones  (D 28573)

Jul 10, 2008, 8:35 AM
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Re: [peek] Liability as an Instructor - How to Minimize It? [In reply to] Can't Post

Here is a good tip in minimizing your liability as a TI, know when to say "No".

There will be times when you are assigned a big fat pear shaped chick to take who is just under the limit. You can take one look and often know, "she will not pick up her legs on landing." Know when to tell manifest "no" I'm not taking that passenger. There will be times another TI refuses to take someone and manifest will come to you (sometimes in front of the student) asking if you will take them because they need someone else (add boo hoo whining from the student about how everyone else in their party is getting to go).

Sometimes an overzealous student will beg you to "do like 50 flips" and call you out on your skills.

Put aside any guilt for the passengers you don't feel comfortable taking, say no to students requests for things you may not feel comfortable doing, and don't let yourself be pressured by manifest or the DZO into doing something you feel uneasy about. This will minimize a lot of your liability even if it pisses a couple of people off.


peek  (D 8884)

Jul 10, 2008, 8:54 AM
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Re: [SimonBones] Liability as an Instructor - How to Minimize It? [In reply to] Can't Post

In reply to:
Sometimes an overzealous student will beg you to "do like 50 flips" and call you out on your skills.

You have actually had a student question your skill when you told them that wasn't a good idea?!


Edited after seeing Matthew's response:
I would be introducing that student to another "more skillful" instructor!



(This post was edited by peek on Jul 10, 2008, 11:17 AM)


matthewcline  (D 21585)

Jul 10, 2008, 9:33 AM
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Re: [peek] Liability as an Instructor - How to Minimize It? [In reply to] Can't Post

YES!

They saw it on a video and thought that T-I had, I quote "Mad Skillzz". They even had the video (a friends tandem Jump) to prove it.

I just tell them we will do some cool stuff and give them the same breif I give them all about Exit, body poistion, how to read the Altimeter and pulling. IF they don't do it all right, well then I have my "Mad Skillzz" put to the test.

I have only had one Tandem Student tell me the ywished the jump was more exciting.

Matt


jumpr71  (D 23125)

Jul 10, 2008, 9:41 AM
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Re: [velvetjo] Liability as an Instructor - How to Minimize It? [In reply to] Can't Post

I am loathe to ask this...especially on DZ.com forums. I AM NOT MAKING ANY ACCUSATIONS, OR IMPLICATIONS against any particular DZ. We skydive...some of us do it for a living...skydiving is dangerous. I know this. I try to provide the best instruction I can, and I use the best gear I can to make skydiving as safe as it can possibly be. Has anyone ever been presented with a situation where the gear provided is less than safe, and the attitude/actions of the dzo dont address the problems? Or, the way in which the problem is addressed is wrong? If so then what did you do about it...you can message me directly f you do not want to reply in public.


chuckbrown  (D 19538)

Jul 10, 2008, 10:04 AM
Post #15 of 68 (3930 views)
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Re: [velvetjo] Liability as an Instructor - How to Minimize It? [In reply to] Can't Post

Incorporate yourself as a business & think about moving some assets into your wife's or child's name.


peek  (D 8884)

Jul 10, 2008, 11:36 AM
Post #16 of 68 (3893 views)
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Re: [jumpr71] Liability as an Instructor - How to Minimize It? [In reply to] Can't Post

In reply to:
I am loathe to ask this...especially on DZ.com forums.

Dude, what could possibly go wrong? They've always treated me great here!

In reply to:
Has anyone ever been presented with a situation where the gear provided is less than safe, and the attitude/actions of the dzo don't address the problems?

Short answer: Happens on a regular basis at some places. However, sometimes it is not in the form of initial neglect, but from lack of preventative maintenance.

That is why some tandem manufacturers suggest/require 25 jump inspections. (If anyone knows of a rig owner that does this religiously, let us know so we can say good things about them here.)

In reply to:
If so then what did you do about it.
Multiple "conversations" of rapidly escalating urgency until it is fixed. (Does that sound gentle enough?)


What should be mentioned is that some instructors, due to their experience or procedures, might be able to use questionable gear (more) safely than a less experienced or less caring instructor can. It doesn't mean it is right, it just means that it is possible, but should not be an excuse used by a rig owner to not fix something.


(This post was edited by peek on Jul 10, 2008, 11:40 AM)


duroejc  (D 27312)

Jul 10, 2008, 6:25 PM
Post #17 of 68 (3833 views)
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Re: [peek] Liability as an Instructor - How to Minimize It? [In reply to] Can't Post

Lance-
Glad to her your going to get the rating- it is fun and rewarding- I did the same thing when I got mine- worth a chat with a lawyer. LLC could be the thing to do. I set up a business for skydiving and other ventures primarily as a tax tool. I haven't figured out what I'm going to do- I have taken my cash and placed it in accounts under my kids names. but I have exposure with 401K, house etc...

For now I just use common sense- and I know you're a pretty level headed guy- don't jump in questionalble conditions, check gear, properly cert, pilot, is the DZ waiver bullet-proof(as much as possible) is it signed, say no when you need to.

Be prudent but don't live life under a rock


Andrewwhyte  (C 1988)

Jul 10, 2008, 9:45 PM
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Re: [velvetjo] Liability as an Instructor - How to Minimize It? [In reply to] Can't Post

The arguments about whether a tandem or IAD student have placed higher expectations upon themselves seem right and true. Sadly our nations have armies of attorneys trained to thwart that sort of logic mumbo jumbo. The truth is IADs get dead at a higher rate than tandems and I think they get hurt at a much higher level. At the end of the day there is no defense like having your student waving goodbye with a big smile on his/her uninjured face.


pchapman  (D 1014)

Jul 11, 2008, 5:19 AM
Post #19 of 68 (3773 views)
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Re: [AggieDave] Liability as an Instructor - How to Minimize It? [In reply to] Can't Post

In reply to:
You can minimize your civil liability footprint by adhering to not just the FARs, the BSRs and the manufacturer's recommendations, but by also trying to stay with in the norm of what is acceptable procedure by the industry.

True. The tricky bit is when the accepted practice in the industry is below the level of the FARs or manufacturer recommendations.

If the manufacturer recommends no front loops out the door with a tandem, but all the experienced instructors do them, that can put one in an awkward spot.


labrys  (D 29848)

Jul 11, 2008, 5:34 AM
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Re: [pchapman] Liability as an Instructor - How to Minimize It? [In reply to] Can't Post

Quote:
If the manufacturer recommends no front loops out the door with a tandem, but all the experienced instructors do them, that can put one in an awkward spot.

I don't see that being tricky at all. Either you do the frontloop against the manufacturer recommendation with the expectation that you can use the "everyone else does it" excuse if something goes wrong Crazy , or you follow the recommendation and don't do it.

Staying within industry accepted procedure usually applies more to not doing something dangerous just because there isn't an explicit rule against it, and most of your peers don't do it even if there isn't a rule against it.


AggieDave  (D License)

Jul 11, 2008, 5:58 AM
Post #21 of 68 (3759 views)
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Re: [pchapman] Liability as an Instructor - How to Minimize It? [In reply to] Can't Post

Quote:
True. The tricky bit is when the accepted practice in the industry is below the level of the FARs or manufacturer recommendations.

If the manufacturer recommends no front loops out the door with a tandem, but all the experienced instructors do them, that can put one in an awkward spot.

Its not tricky at all. You go with whatever is the more prudent practice. For instance, if the industry standard suggests that you complete 2 rounds of handle touches while in freefall, but the IRM only suggested one, then two might be a better choice.

You can what-if this line of thinking to death. It takes simply some common sense. That's it.


allseeingeye  (D License)

Jul 11, 2008, 6:50 AM
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Re: [velvetjo] Liability as an Instructor - How to Minimize It? [In reply to] Can't Post

Anyone who becomes an instructor should do so with full knowledge that there really is no way to completely shield one's self from liability. When you are 'hands on' with a student, virtually everything that you do is a personal act and therefore personal liability generally can not be circumvented through a corporate veil.

Most waivers are little more than a 'feel good' document which serves a dual purpose. First, it makes us as instructors think we have something protecting us and therefore we go about executing our duties without a huge amount of fretting and concern about best practices. If DZs used a 'best practices' policy, about half of the skydiving we do and many of the students we take skydiving would never get off of the ground. Secondly, it does discourage most of the minorly injured jumpers (student or otherwise) from filing nuisance lawsuits because they do believe what it says, and it is a minor stumbling block for personal injury lawyers who may not take the case when there is no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

Unfortunately there are several aspects to waivers of which most instructors and DZOs are unaware or do not wish to consider. The most significant of these, is that your waiver does not apply to anyone other than the signatory party. That person does not have the right to sign away the rights of others, such as mommy, daddy, wifey and little Johnny, the survivors. There is plenty of case law which backs this up and seldom if ever, is a lawsuit filed by a survivor dismissed on the merits of the waiver.

Another aspect is that in order to have anything dismissed, you must pay to defend the waiver. A law firm capable of doing this effectively is going to charge $300.00 to $400.00 per hour in most parts of the country, and probably more in the People's Republics of California, NY, and Mass. In order to get to a stage to even have a case considered for dismissal you can count on spending between $10K and $20K. Usually that is the starting ante. It only goes up from there.

Do not think for a minute that the DZO or the equipment mfg. or the aircraft owner is going to pay for your defense as an instructor. First, their defenses are probably by nature, going to involve a different strategy than the instructor's. In fact, their best defense may be to blame you, the sub-contractor. Do not think it will not happen. In the world outside of the puffy clouds and pretty rainbows in the simple minds of people who enjoy dropzone life and dizzie.com, things often work this way.

If you are going to instruct, there are a number of means to shield personal assets by placing them in the spouse's name or using different investment vehicles which are unattachable. (even OJ still gets his pension). However, most of these are beyond the scope of planning and forethought of your average broke skydiving instructor, and none of them save you from paying for your defense.

In most cases, your average broke skydiving instructor/defendant will have no choice but to be a no show or a minimal participant in a lawsuit. The net result of which, is a default judgement against the instructor. In many cases this can then be discharged by personal bankruptcy, in which case you had best hope that your other assets were protected in some way shape or form. However, there are judgments that are not dischargeable, and they differ from state to state. This of course brings us back to having to pay tens of thousands of dollars to defend yourself to the point that if a judgement is granted, it is structured to your advantage so that it can be dischargable by bankruptcy.

You as an instructor by all means should comply with the BSRs, FARs, and industry standards. However, do not delude yourself into thinking that comliance and a waiver are going to keep you safe from the tort boogieman. Any student, or another jumper, or an event with which you had only minimal involvement can change your life and financial future for ever.

I am the allseeing eye. I have more years, jumps and knowlege about the business and instructional end of this sport than most of you combined and I am anonymous for damn good reason.


(This post was edited by allseeingeye on Jul 11, 2008, 7:11 AM)


Andy9o8  (D License)

Jul 11, 2008, 7:55 AM
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Re: [chuckbrown] Liability as an Instructor - How to Minimize It? [In reply to] Can't Post

In reply to:
Incorporate yourself as a business & think about moving some assets into your wife's or child's name.

That would have been precisely my post had you not posted it first. Wink

-------
...to which I would add, if the instructor, personally (and/or as a 1-person corporate entity or LLC) can get a policy of liability insurance that covers his/her skydiving instruction activities, so much the better. The crucial thing about liability insurance is not only that it pays on a claim, but it pays for legal expenses as they are incurred. However, that's easier said than done - liability insurance which covers instructors is often hard to come by, and the premiums are usually very expensive.

On the other hand - and I admit this cuts the legs out of the previous paragraph - I agree there's some merit in very openly being "Uninsured" - it arguably might make you less of a lawsuit target in the first place. All the more reason - if you go the "Hey! I Am Uninsured!!" route - to have as few assets in your own name as possible. (Then just hope you don't get divorced!)

Edit: Allseeingeye's post is a bullseye, and should be made a sticky for every instructor and DZO to read and digest.


(This post was edited by Andy9o8 on Jul 11, 2008, 8:02 AM)


AndyBoyd  (D 16728)

Jul 11, 2008, 10:38 AM
Post #24 of 68 (3663 views)
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Re: [allseeingeye] Liability as an Instructor - How to Minimize It? [In reply to] Can't Post

Spot-on post. There is nothing you can do to shield yourself 100% from lawsuits. And even if you win the lawsuit, it will still likely cost you big bucks. There may be a way to protect your $$ by incorporating your instructing "business" or creating some sort of trust for your kid's college fund, but these are far from foolproof. If you have a family to support, and are genuinely worried about your vulnerability to lawsuits (as you should be), dropping your ratings is the only way to be sure.

But, look at it this way. Life is full of risks. You are potentially liable to a lawsuit everytime you drive a car, or even walk down the street. So, my advice is to drop your ratings, or take the sound advice of other posters regarding BSR's and basic common sense and carefulness, and live with the risk.


jdthomas  (D License)

Jul 13, 2008, 2:26 AM
Post #25 of 68 (3556 views)
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Re: [velvetjo] Liability as an Instructor - How to Minimize It? [In reply to] Can't Post

In reply to:
In reply to:
Is the risk worthy of the reward?

I just gave up all my ratings this year and will never take those on again.

That's exactly the crux of it. Did you have a specific reason for not renewing ratings, or was it the general climate?

Lance

General climate of things. I have to much to loose these days and the reward no longer large enough for the risk.
I have a nice house, nice cars and toys that I paid way to much money for and am selfish enough that I want to keep them if something went wrong when working with a student and if you do this long enough something will go wrong at some point, your fault or not you will have that oh shit I hope they don't sue moment around you, maybe not your fault but the fault of another instructor and yet you may have helped in some way, maybe something as minor as gearing the student up in a jump suit and you could be named.
To much risk man, just to much for me now.
Joe


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