Take the Blame for Your Own Mistakes

Stop trying to pin the blame on others when you screw up.

I have to blog this because I’m pretty fired up about it.

This morning, I got an email message from a lawyer looking for an R44 “consultant”, someone who could

…educate us on the practical day to day operations of an R44. As a consultant, we would not reveal your name or association to anyone. We simply need someone to call when we have a question.

The email message provided enough information that I was able to track down the accident report for the accident the lawyer is working on. Although he didn’t say so, he made it pretty obvious that both Robinson Helicopter Company and the maker of the R44 Raven II’s “auxiliary” fuel pump could be targets of a legal action.

I read the accident report. Without going into details — in this instance, I want to protect the identifies of the parties involved — it was a pretty clear case of pilot errors in judgement and execution. As I summed it up in my email response:

The pilot elects to make an off-airport landing at very high density altitude to take a leak, starts to take off, then overreacts to a yellow caution light and tries to perform a run-on landing in rough terrain.

The helicopter rolled over and caught fire. The pilot and passenger were badly burned.

The details of the Full Narrative Probable Cause accident report paint a picture of a low-time private pilot who flies less than 100 hours a year making a very long cross-country flight in mountainous terrain. There’s evidence of poor flight planning and poor fuel management. But most evidence points to poor judgement on the part of the pilot. Nothing was wrong with the helicopter. It performed as expected in the situation it was put into. The pilot simply made a series of bad judgement calls.

How many times have I seen this in accident reports? Too many to count! The vast majority of aviation accidents are caused by pilot error. Period. This case is no different.

Yet there’s a lawyer involved and that means someone’s thinking about a lawsuit.

Sure, why not? Why not blame Robinson for not issuing [yet] another Safety Notice, specifically warning pilots about landing in mountain meadows at more than 10,000 feet density altitude? Why not blame them for allowing cockpit caution lights to illuminate when the pilot is operating close to rough terrain at maximum power? Why not blame them for not forcing pilots to tattoo emergency procedures on the back of their right hand so they can easily consult them during flight? And the pump manufacturer — why not blame them for making pumps that can have low pressure indications that trigger a caution light?

Why in the world would the pilot in command even consider taking the blame for the results of his own poor judgement?

Because it’s the right thing to do? Am I the only person who actually cares about silly things like that?

As I told the lawyer in my email response,

It sickens me that people can’t admit they made a mistake and get on with their lives. It sickens me that lawyers go after deep-pocket manufacturers to squeeze them for money when they are not at fault. Lawsuits like this are hurting our country, destroying small businesses like mine by jacking up expenses for insurance and equipment “improvements” we don’t really need.

Yes, it’s unfortunate that the helicopter crashed and the people inside it were burned. But it isn’t Robinson’s fault. And it isn’t the pump maker’s fault. The pilot needs to understand this and stop thinking about promises of big settlements. He needs to stop trying to blame others for his mistakes.

Do you think they’ll contact me again about being a consultant? Now that would be a bad judgement call indeed.

Note: If you plan to comment on this post, please limit your comments to the topic of inappropriate legal action. I will not approve any comments that attempt to discuss this particular accident or my summary of it. I assure you that my conclusions are fact-based; you can probably find the accident report if you try hard enough and judge for yourself. The last thing I need is for lawyers to start coming after me.

6 thoughts on “Take the Blame for Your Own Mistakes

  1. I think you are 100% right about the pilot taking responsibility for his apparent poor planning. It’s not Robinson’s fault that he was injured. And I’d say there’s more than _some_ evidence about poor fuel management in the NTSB report.

    I don’t think, however, that your response to the lawyer accomplished much. He’s just following his client’s orders, trying to make the client happy. In the grand scheme of things, the lawyer will find another R44 pilot (likely with less backbone) looking to make a few bucks and write you off as an angry person that hates lawyers.

    I think it would have been more effective to respond with a bit less ire and less “sickens me” and with more “I did a little looking around and it’s pretty clear to me from the NTSB report that the aux. fuel pump wasn’t the reason for the accident.”

    Finally, why not answer a few questions for them? If they knew that the aux. fuel pump warning light wasn’t an immediate death sentence, they might be less inclined to pursue the case at all. And that’s what really needs to happen anyway.

    • Evan: Actually, I did say quite a bit about what I saw as the facts in the accident. My response to the lawyer was far more than what I quoted in this post. I addressed the high density altitude issues and what was clearly poor decision making on the part of an inexperienced pilot. But you’re right; he won’t let it go. There’s money to be made — either from the client or from Robinson — and he’ll do what he can to pin the blame on someone who doesn’t deserve it.

      I should admit here that before I looked at the accident report and saw the kind of cut and dry case it was, I considered working as a paid consultant. After all, everyone can use a few bucks here and there! But the more I read, the less I wanted to be involved in what looked like a hatchet job. And, as a small business owner indirectly penalized (through high insurance rates) by the outrageous legal cases in this country, I really don’t want a case like this to win. I have to go with my gut and pass on a paycheck I’d feel guilty taking. After all, it won’t cost the lawyer anything to hire me — it would either be paid for by the client or by Robinson, neither of which deserve to incur the expenses.

  2. I know nothing about the accident. What I do know, though, from much research and studying this issue some in college, is that what the public believes is the reason for high insurance rates is a myth; a myth perpetuated by insurance companies as an excuse to raise rates.

    Most people can’t afford to go up against manufacturers or any large entity like businesses, medical establishments, and their insurance company lawyers, so most people use attorneys that will take their case for a percentage. Those attorneys won’t accept cases they do not believe they stand a very good chance of winning, because if they lose, they lose hundreds of thousands of dollars. They don’t stand a good chance of winning unless there is strong evidence to support their position and their ducks are all in a row.

    Lawyers and their clients do not decide if a lawsuit goes to trial. Judges decide that. If a judge decides a case has merit, it goes forward. If not, the case is thrown out and that’s the end of it. Most cases don’t make it past the first judge.

    Those that go forward were deemed to have merit, yet most defendants win. It isn’t as easy to win as people think it is, even when the law suits were justified. The law is very complex, and how it really works comes as big shock to many if not most people who enter into lawsuits. They find out after they are already into the process.

    Insurance companies settle out of court quite often, but generally, they do that when they know the plaintiff has a case and they don’t want to risk the defendant losing because then they will have to pay out a lot. Thus, they settle to save money because they know the wronged parties have a case.

    All of the above holds true for medical malpractice suits too, not to mention most healthcare providers are never sued, yet healthcare providers live in fear of malpractice lawsuits and pay through the nose for malpractice insurance.

    It’s the same for school districts, and now schools do almost know field trips and playground activities are so restrictive recess isn’t very much fun anymore. They behave as though there’s been a horrendous epidemic of tragedies they’ve all been sued over, yet it isn’t so. They pay big bucks to insurance companies, but rarely do the insurance companies have to pay out for anything that happens on school grounds or under school supervision. Even when there is a reason to, like occasional petty vandalism, now kids are charged with felony misdemeanors, at least, and parents are gone after to pay up, all so insurance companies can try to avoid paying for what they’ve received premiums.

    Given the realities of how the courts work and the true statistics on how many companies and healthcare providers are sued, how few lawsuits it to trial, and how most defendants win, why is so much money going to insurance companies and why does everyone believe the myths? Because insurance companies encourage them, legislators in their pockets spread them, providing justification the public will accept for continually upping premiums, after convincing everyone and their dog that they need insurance for every move they make.

    • I don’t think I agree with this 100%. It really can’t be a myth if it’s perpetuated by the insurance companies. They’ve made it reality by raising their rates and saying the reason is litigation.

      Of course, all this hurts small business — which is my main gripe about frivolous lawsuits. I know firsthand that companies have increased product/service costs to help them afford to pay their insurance because rates have risen due to liability litigation. I also know that manufacturers like Robinson have made recommendations/requirements on the purchase/use/upgrade to additional equipment to reduce their liability: Nomex flight suits for every occupant? How impractical is that? Refitting the fuel tanks with bladders at a cost of $15K? Do you know what that does to my bottom line? These recommendations were put in place because four people died in a fiery crash caused, in part, by poor planning and execution of the flight on the part of the pilot. The families of the deceased went after Robinson. I don’t know if they settled, but these recommendations resulted. In fact, the failure of the pilot/owner in this particular crash to follow these recommendations was actually cited in the accident report.

      As for the lawyer/client not deciding to go to court, your point is taken. However, it’s the lawyer/client that decide to TRY to take it to court. And I think that’s my point. They make the decision to try to sue. They get the ball rolling. They fail to take responsibility for their own mistakes.

      That’s just my take on it. Thanks for taking the time to comment so thoughtfully!

  3. It’s possible feedback like yours and the same from other experienced pilots will help the law firm decide they don’t have a case, or a judge will decide there is no merit.

What do you think?