Thursday, March 08, 2007


Today, the IFR Pilot is glad that, unlike other fellow aviation bloggers, he doesn't live in the Wild Republic of Minnesota. As the AOPA website first noted, a bill in the Minnestoa legislature would work some marked changes on the insurance landscape in the Land of a Thousand Lakes.

In pertient part, that bill states:
Every owner of aircraft in this state when applying for registration, reregistration, or transfer of ownership shall supply any information the commissioner reasonably requires to determine that the aircraft during the period of its contemplated operation is covered by an insurance policy with limits of not less than $25,000 $250,000 per passenger seat liability both for passenger bodily injury or death and for property damage; not less than $25,000 $250,000 for bodily injury or death to each nonpassenger in any one accident; and not less than $50,000 $500,000 per occurrence for bodily injury or death to nonpassengers in any one accident. The insurance policy is subject to the following, which need not be contained in the policy:

(1) the liability of the insurer with respect to the liability coverage required by this subdivision becomes absolute whenever injury or damage occurs;
(2) the liability of the insurer may not be canceled or annulled by any agreement between the insurer and the insured after the occurrence of the injury or damage; and
(3) no statement made by the insured or on the insured's behalf and no violation of the policy defeats or voids the policy.
So, beyond raising the minimum coverage levels by a whopping 10 fold, the bill now imposes a cateogory of liability usually reserved for ultrahazardous or abnormally dangerous activities: "absolute liability." Here's how my trusty Black's Law Dictionary defines the concept of absolute liability: "Liability without fault of negligence." In the past, absolute liability has been reserved for matters such as pile driving, poisonous gases, rockets, hazardous waste disposal sites, oil wells, and escaping water.

In the interest of full, disclosure, however, I note that to some extent we already deal with the rule of absolute liability in aviation:
In the early stages of commerical aviation, airlines were held strictly liable for ground damage resulting from a crash. This view is no longer justified by the character of the planes and their accident records if the basis is an ultrahazardous or abnormally dangerous activity; and a number of courts have retreated to a negligence standard. * * * After considerable wavering by the American Law Institute, a rule of strict liability was adopted in § 520A of the Second Restatement [of Torts].
Prosser, Wade & Schwartz, Torts: Cases & Materials 686-87 (8th ed. 1988). The referenced § 520A of the Restatement (Second) of Torts provides as follows:

If physical harm to land or to persons or chattels on the ground is caused by the ascent, descent or flight of aircraft, or by the dropping or falling of an object from the aircraft,

(a) the operator of the aircraft is subject to liability for the harm, even though he has exercised the utmost care to prevent it, and

(b) the owner of the aircraft is subject to similar liability if he has authorized or permitted the operation.

Thus, if there is an incident involving an aircraft covered by a policy subject to this legislation, courts will no longer engage in any inquiry as to who might be at fault. Your insurance company pays, no questions asked. You can bet what this will do to rates, not just in Minnesoata, but for all of us.

We've all got a stake in this one. Just say no to Minnesota Senate File 608!

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