Instructor was flying the plane when he prop striked, am I the student, liable?
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So for context I am a student pilot with about 25 hours in a 2001 172SP, and I am 18 years old
My last flight training I have had was with my Instructor, who I really like.
The winds were around 15 gust 20 and were 60 degrees off of the runway heading, and I wanted to get some experience with crosswinds, we've done it before but my instructor had to do everything.
So it was a busy day in the pattern, and I did 2-3 touch n' go's in, the first two being a long and slow approach holding it above the centerline to get better at the slip, the third being a normal landing, it went quite well, maybe a little hairy after touch down due to gusts.
Before the final landing my instructor said he wanted to give it a try and see how he does, and demonstrate it. So I did all the pattern up to final, where he took control of the aircraft and had full control, i was just watching.
So he had full control of the aircraft from final. He was doing everything perfect(like he normally does), landing with one wheel into the wind, but then a gust hit the airplane moving us left of the centerline(winds coming from our right). He then used right rudder to correct for it, but he used too much and over corrected, yawing the planes prop into the ground and we had a prop strike. It sounded like a zzzzt, I didn't even know that's what it was because nothing changed, the engine didn't stop and nothing came off. My instructor said that we just had a prop strike and told tower this was a full stop. We taxied back and parked it just fine. But the damage was done to the prop.
Now my instructor told me not to worry about it, because he was the one controlling the aircraft.
He sent a message to the flight school and the owner.
The owner assumed that I did it at first and his first reply was that "They're gonna pay for that", my instructor then told him that he was the one flying and he was the one that did it.
I asked my instructor a couple of times if I will have to do anything, but he said no, because he's the one that did it. But i still feel really worried if I am going to be considered responsible financially at all. Quite frankly I never thought about Insurance at all, but this is a giant wake up call
Any help/advice would be appreciated, I need to know if I need to get a lawyer or something.
The owner said that this could cost up to 60,000 dollars. The instructor admits that it was him flying the aircraft and is very up front about it, because he was flying the aircraft that whole approach and landing.
Thanks in advance
6 Replies
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1012 Posts
Robert Gardner:
At the NTSB hearing, the instructor will have to sell that concept to an administrative law judge.....and they tend to put the responsibility on the instructor.

No selling needed, as it's well established in law that an instructor giving training is deemed to be the PIC regardless of the trainee's qualifications or experience or who owns the plane.  See Administrator v. Hamre, Administrator v. Moeslein, et alia.  As such, there is no way for an instructor giving training to avoid being considered the PIC whether s/he wants to be PIC or not, and no way for the trainee to assume that role without terminating the training and the instructor ceding that duty to the trainee.

That said, the instructor is not held strictly liable for the actions of the trainee when the action is not reasonably foreseeable or there was nothing the instructor could do.  See Administrator v. Strobel.  But in this case, since the instructor was flying and the trainee wasn't doing anything, Strobel doesn't apply, and the instructor bears sole responsibility for the result.

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At the NTSB hearing, the instructor will have to sell that concept to an administrative law judge.....and they tend to put the responsibility on the instructor.
The one legally liable is the one is pilot in command, which is not necessarily the one holding the controls.  So once you have your certificate, who is the pilot in command if you receive further training, you or the CFI?  It depends.  Some CFIs assume that responsibility, others will not.  Typically, you will be pilot in command, especially if you yourself own the airplane.  But when you don't yet have your certificate, as is the case with you as a 25 hr. student pilot, there is no ambiguity.  You cannot be pilot in command until you are endorsed for and solo.  So, the CFI is legally responsible, even if you had been the one flying, as he is pilot in command.  All that matters is that you didn't yet have your certificate, and were not solo.  Nothing that anyone says or did can change that.  So, pat yourself on the back for not having been the one to break the plane, and if the CFI is a good one, as you say, then learn in retrospect from this experience as much as is possible, then put it behind you, and see your training through.  Until you actually solo, renter's insurance is irrelevant.  But make sure that once you are ready to solo, you have a clear answer as to whether and with what terms you need renter's insurance, and have it in force if necessary when you step into the cockpit to solo.
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I agree with Ron Levy, but the rule I lived by as an instructor was that if anything bad happens while an instructor is in a control seat it is the instructor's fault.
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Thanks for the reply and the advice. I guess I'll just wait and see if I need to do anything
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1012 Posts
Get documentation of what the instructor said, including a copy of that email, and make a written record of exactly what happened.  Then sit back and wait.  If the owner, flight school, or insurer makes any demands of you other than a statement of what happened, get a lawyer.