A pilot crashed his new Cirrus, killing himself and his passenger. According to the families, Cirrus didn’t train the pilot on the use of the plane’s autopilot when he showed up at the factory to pick up his new aircraft, and that contributed to the crash. The details are here.
The jury agreed with the families, handing Cirrus Design one of the most controversial aviation verdicts in recent memory. Then, in April, a court of appeals vacated (erased) the verdict, and ordered that judgment be entered in favor of Cirrus. Now, in the most improbable turn of all, the Supreme Court of Minnesota has agreed to hear the case by granting a petition for review.
In vacating the verdict, the court of appeal ruled that, even assuming for argument’s sake that Cirrus failed to train the pilot properly, it doesn’t mean that the families had a right to sue. That’s because Minnesota law prohibits lawsuits for "educational malpractice."
. . . determination of whether the transition training was ineffective because the instructor failed to provide a flight lesson on [the use of the autopilot] would involve an inquiry into the nuances of the educational process, which is exactly the type of determination that the educational-malpractice bar is meant to avoid.
But one judge on the three-judge panel, Roger Klaphake, dissented. He reasoned that the "educational-malpractice bar" did not apply because the families did not claim that Cirrus’ improperly instructed the pilot on the use of the autopilot. Rather, the families claimed that Cirrus failed to instruct the pilot at all.
The Minnesota Supreme Court’s decision to review the case is unusual. Each year, the Supreme Court is asked to take up and review more than 600 appellate decisions. But it agrees to hear only about 60. The rest are simply not important enough to take up the court’s time.
It is, of course, impossilbe to predict how the Supreme Court will decide the Cirrus case. About 30% of the time, the Supreme Court affirms (completely agrees with) the court of appeal decision. About 15% of the time, it reverses (completely disagrees with) the court of appeal. The rest of the time, it’s a mixed result.
The Supreme Court can reinstate the jury’s verdict against Cirrus, erase it (as the court of appeal did), or issue new rules for the jury to follow and then order that the case be retried. But the case’s ramifications will not be limited to Cirrus, flight training, or even aviation law. Rather, the court can be expected to clarify Minnesota’s law banning "educational malpractice" suits generally.