Legal Memorandum: Negligence of a Pilot in CA

Issue: Under the laws of the state of California, in airplane cases, will the pilot will always be found to be negligent because he or she has the final decision in every situation?

Area of Law: Aviation & Transportation Law, Personal Injury & Negligence
Keywords: Pilot's negligence; Final decision; Duty of care
Jurisdiction: California
Cited Cases: 455 F.2d 222; 6 F.3d 572; 623 F.2d 104; 69 Cal. 2d 108
Cited Statutes: Cal. Civ. Code § 1714(a); 14 C.F.R § 91.3(a); 14 C.F.R. § 91.67(a)
Date: 02/01/2001

“[G]eneral negligence law applies to airplane tort cases.”  Spaulding v. United States (9th Cir. 1972) 455 F.2d 222, 226.  As a general rule, a person has a duty of care to avoid injury to others and may be held liable if his or her careless conduct injures another person.  See Cal. Civ. Code § 1714(a) (“Everyone is responsible . . . for an injury occasioned to another by his want of ordinary care or skill in the management of his property or person, except so far as the latter has . . . by want of ordinary care, brought the injury upon himself . . ..”); see also Rowland v. Christian (1968) 69 Cal. 2d 108, 112 (broad duty of care imposed by § 1714 embodies a fundamental public policy of California).  Defendants argue that, contrary to § 1714, they owed no duty at all to Carl Henning because “[t]he pilot in command of an aircraft is directly responsible for, and is the final authority as to, the operation of the aircraft.”  14 C.F.R § 91.3(a) (1997). 

In Foss v. United States (9th Cir. 1980) 623 F.2d 104, the court rejected the argument that whenever there is a crash a pilot will always have been negligent as a matter of law because the pilot is always in a position of “final authority” and will therefore have violated 14 C.F.R. § 91.3(a).  Id. at 106.  Similarly, in In re Air Crash Near Cerritos, California (C.D. Cal. 1989) 23 Av. Cas. (CCH) 17,448, […]

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