CFI Liability Question


New Member
As much as people like to sue these days, do you as a CFI run the risk of being targeted for litigation if, say, you sign off a student for a solo flight and he plants himself somewhere?

Even if the crash is entirely the student pilot's fault, lawsuits tend to have ridiculous claims. I'm guessing that a lawyer would most likely try to place the blame on you, the CFI, for "not giving adequate instruction."

I can't wait to be a CFI, but having to face this risk is not an aspect of it that I'm looking forward to.
It's all part of the job, but you can help yourself out by being a diligent paper pusher. For example, when generating a pre-solo knowledge test (assuming you don't work for a 141) be sure and cover EVERYTHING on it. Once the student has taken the test, correct it to 100% and have you both sign and date it, AND THEN KEEP IT SOMEWHERE SAFE! If the student does go and plant themselves somewhere, you're going to have a lot of explaining to do, but with the paperwork to back up that you went over everything you possibly could to make the student a safe pilot, you run a better chance of being "saved" from the lawyers.

I know how you feel. In answer to your first question, if someone can sue McDonald's - and WIN - because THEY spilled hot coffee on THEMSELVES, I think it's a safe bet that you're going to be "lawsuit target #2" (right behind your flight school - they have deeper pockets).

Here's the way I handled it. I imagined the worst case scenario: my student does something dumb and kills himself on his first solo. Imagine yourself in court being grilled by the prosecuting attorney about whether or not your student was indeed ready for solo flight. Would you have a good argument that he was safe? If not, don't let him solo.

For example, I would wait until my students made about a dozen good safe landings in a row before I would sign them off. They don't have to be greasers but I would be looking for good airspeed control on final and good judgement in the flare. On the day of the solo I would fly with them for the first one or two landings. If they did OK, I'd sign them off. That way, I could make a sound argument that I had used reasonable judgement in sending the student solo, "I didn't have to assist him in ANY of his previous 12 landings and he made 2 safe landings just 15 minutes before he soloed." Just make sure you can defend your decision to send him solo, that's all.

I don't want anyone to get the impression that I'm a heartless CFI who only cares about the legal implications if one of my students had an accident. It would kill me if any of my guys hurt themselves - regardless of the legal implications I would still feel responsible.

One thing, though. You NEVER forget the smile on the kid's face after he's made that first solo. That's what makes it all worthwhile!
Turtle's point is a good one, but while you're watching your potential solo student do those landings, be sure and pull something crazy on him/her to make sure their THINKING. Personally, (nothing against turtle's comments) I could care less if my student makes 2, 6, or even 12 good landings before I solo them, I would hope that if I was thinking about soloing them, they'd have been nailing landings for awhile. What I'm looking for before soloing a student is that if while their out there by themselves and their luck runs out, they're going to be able to think their way out of the problem.

just my opinion.
Just remember that although suing is rampant, it has nothing to do with getting "justice", it's all about making a quick buck (for the lawyer). A lawyer may try to get you, but when they find out you make less then a McDonalds worker as a CFI, then they are gonna lose all interest no matter how good of a case they might have. Some people say "but hey, they can still garnish your wages if they win!". But considering as a pilot you won't be making any decent amount of money for the next 10 to 15 years, again the lawyer is gonna lose interest. They just want a lot of money, and they want it now. So unless you have a considerable amount of money or assets stored away somewhere under your name, I wouldn't even worry about it all too much.
The main thing that CFIs have going for them when it comes to lawsuits is their lack of assets. You can't get blood from a turnip. Lawyers are more likely to go after deep pockets like the FBO, the aircraft manufacturer, etc.

In addition to following the FARs religiously and going above and beyond the care that they call for, here are a few ways to minimize your risk:

1. Buy CFI professional liability insurance. AOPA offers this type of policy at .

2. If you use an FBO or student's airplane, make sure that you are listed on their policy as a Named Insured. Usually the company will do this at little or no charge.

3. Have you students sign a Hold Harmless Agreement. I got a form meant for passengers of GA airplanes from AOPA's fax on demand service and modified it for instruction. The validity of these in court is questionable, but at least you can show that the student knew what he was getting into.

4. If all else fails, declare bankruptcy and throw yourself on the mercy of the court. If it's good enough for the airlines, it's good enough for you.

[I'm not a lawyer and I don't play one on tv.]
Look on the bright side. If you get sued and loose, they can have half your debt. To me the liability question means alot more to someone who has a real job and instructs on the side. If you are a full time CFI who just paid for all your ratings, you will most likely have no assets to speak of. Good records of what you actually covered in each lesson are a must. One more reason to have a syllabus for the student. It can save both of you money. AOPA insurance is another plus. They also have a legal services plan.
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Good records of what you actually covered in each lesson are a must.

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Yeah, and they need to be very detailed. For example, instead of writing "stalls" in their logbook, put "stalls and stall recoveries." That way no fast talking lawyer can ever say that you did not teach how to recover from a stall.

Additionally, make sure that all the endorsements in the logbook and on the student pilot certificate are correct and up-to-date.
One thing to watch out for on AOPA's CFI insurance (and all their insurance for that matter) is that it only covers single-engine airplanes. If you teach in all multi-engines, AOPA is worthless to you. (And they won't recommend anyone else either)

So if anyone out there know's where you can get Multi Insurance, I'd sure like to know about it!
I did not know that (since I'm poor and never bought a policy).

Your best bet in that case would probably be to have the owner or your employer add you to their policy as a Named Insured.
Keep a written log of what you do with students because not only will it help you help your student, it'll also help you if the feds call one day and ask about the training of your former student.

Believe me. Take notes!