Wednesday, September 21, 2011

V A (o) R

VAoR: Voluntary Assumption of Risk.  Also, for you pilot types, a play on VOR, which stands for VHF Omnidirectional Range, or VHF Omni-Range.

I suspect the legal world will have something to say about voluntary assumption of risk, in what is certain to be a flood of lawsuits following last week’s crash at the Reno Air Races.  The concept is simple.  If you go to a baseball game and sit halfway down the third base line, there’s a chance that a foul ball will head right at you.  Most people are aware of this, unless you’ve never been to or watched a baseball game.  The ticket you buy to get into the game probably says somewhere in fine print that the team isn’t liable if you get conked on the noggin by a foul ball.

When you go to an air race….not an air SHOW, and there’s a huge difference…you may or may not know that there is a chance something horrid will happen, as it did last week.  I have every confidence the lawyers will clear this all up for us.  (Sarcasm is dripping off that last sentence, but it sometimes doesn’t reproduce well on the internet.)

Both air shows and air races are regulated by the FAA, but there’s a major difference.  In an air show, the pilots keep their planes parallel to the flight line and grandstand or seating area, and perform their maneuvers in a way that’s designed to never aim the plane toward the spectators.  This minimizes the chances a plane in trouble will go down into the crowd.  In an air race, there’s a point in the course where the planes turn right toward the spectators.  As they round the pylon for the home stretch, for a short time they’re essentially aimed at the spectators.

And if something goes wrong at that point…as it did in Reno last week….a lot of things can happen, and very few of them are good.

That’s the most significant difference between and air show and an air race.  Someone should explain to the TV nooz geeks that the two terms are decidedly not interchangeable.

I love aircraft and aviation, and have been a member of the EAA for decades.  I’m not a licensed pilot, but years ago in my broadcasting career, as architect of the formats run on the AM radio stations in a broadcast group I was once affiliated with, I had to do a lot of flying with our CEO in the business twin (a Piper Aztec – the Navy calls them U-11A’s) that the company leased.  It was the only way we could spend a full day at one of the other operating companies and be home to sleep in our own beds that night.  Efficiency.  The CEO was many years my senior, and he asked me to fly right-seat with him no matter how many people were on board (the plane carried as many as 5), and he taught me how to land the plane in case some horrible medical situation befell him in the sky.

What happened in Reno was a tragic accident.  I’m not looking forward to how the legal eagles will compound it.
(Photo at top copyright Associated Press.)


  1. Not sure about Nevada law, but in Wisconsin, "assumption of risk" primarily applied after a user was aware of certain risks, such as the continued use of an unsafe ladder. Nowadays, "assumption of risk" isn't used so much as comparative negligence -- which is the same kind of theory, in part (as I learned when I was the plaintiff in my suit against a waterpark.) In fact, assumption of risk was abolished as a defense some time ago.

    Instead, Wisconsin uses comparative negligence, and has some defenses such as "open and obvious danger" that can affect the attribution of negligence.

    There is also the recreational immunity statute to consider in Wisconsin. That came up in Kloes v. Eau Claire Cavalier, where Kloes was pitching when he got hit in the face by a batted ball, and sued the city and the association that ran the league. The pitcher had volunteered to pitch (he usually caught) and the lighting was described as poor.

    Recreational immunity protects an owner who does NOT charge admission for recreational use of his property; the City was protected by that law.

    The association then said "open and obvious danger" protected it from the pitcher's suit, but the Wisconsin courts held that baseball wasn't inherently dangerous enough, so a trial was needed.

    It was a tragic accident; but negligence law helps make everyone safer by determining what should have been done to make the event as safe as practicable. The question isn't "was there a better way to do this" but "did you do it in a reasonably safe way."

  2. Thank you for the enlightenment, Briane.