Florida Court Says Pilot Training Negligence Claim Can Move Forward - Newman v. Socata

May 24, 2013

In Newman v. Socata, the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida explains that a state ban on so-called "educational malpractice" claims does not extend to negligence and breach of contract allegations against a private airplane pilot training company.

1392402_various_aircraft_4.jpgMr. Milot was killed along with two passengers in a tragic plane crash when the Socata TBM 700B aircraft he was piloting missed an approach at a regional airport in Massachusetts. The crash appeared to be caused by a "torque roll," which the court described as "a roll to the left upon an increase in engine power such as would occur during a missed approach." The TBM 700B was known to have a propensity for torque rolls. The personal representative of Milot's estate sued Simcom, the company that trained Milot to fly the planes, alleging that it did not warn Milot that increasing engine power during an approach could cause a torque roll.

Simcom countered by arguing that the breach of contract and negligence claims were simply dressed up educational malpractice claims, which are barred in Florida. The Middle District disagreed, denying the company's motion to dismiss the suit and finding that the ban on these claims does not extend to private, for-profit companies whose alleged breach of a duty owed to a student turned fatal.

While the state Supreme Court has not directly ruled on the issue, the court looked to prior decisions to conclude that the educational malpractice ban is limited to more traditional school settings. "The Supreme Court of Florida would likely refuse to recognize educational malpractice claims against academic institutions--public or private--arising from their delivery of general academic instruction," the court said.

The court further observed that similar bans have been extended to claims of breach of duty in instructing pilots in some states (Missouri and South Dakota), while others have declined to apply the ban under the same circumstances (Texas and New York).
In Dep't of Health & Rehabilitative Servs. v. B.J.M., the Florida Supreme Court cited policy reasons related to the separation of government powers in denying a negligent training and education claim against a state agency. In other words, according to the B.J.M. court, it was not appropriate to second guess resource allocation decisions by a state agency. The B.J.M. court also cited other public policy considerations, such as not wanting to micromanage the education process and the lack of readily acceptable duty of care standards.

In the present matter, the Middle District said these policy concerns simply did not apply. "The public policy considerations that are relied upon to bar traditional educational malpractice claims do not carry over to the flight training setting, at least not on the facts of this case," the court explained.

The South Florida personal injury attorneys at Anidjar & Levine frequently represent people injured in aviation accidents. If you or a loved one was recently involved in a commercial or private airplane crash, call (800) 747-3733 or contact us online for a free consultation.

Related blog posts:

The Role of Florida's Dangerous Instrumentality Doctrine in Personal Injury Cases Involving Plane Crashes - Vreeland, etc. v. Ferrer, etc., et al.

In Order to Recover Damages for Personal Injury, First You Must Know Which Laws Apply - Schippers v. US

Suing an Out-of-State Company for Personal Injury in Florida - Oldock v. DL&B Enterprises, Inc.