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As a pilot (and especially as a flight instructor) I'm probably slightly more at risk of litigation than your average civilian, which leads me to wonder... if a CFI answers a question here, is there a chance somebody could pursue legal action against them?

Is there a precedent for this sort of thing on other stack exchange sites? If so, should I reconsider the use of anything personally identifiable if I stay active?

It's a bunch of questions mashed together, I know.

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    $\begingroup$ Very relevant question. In any case, unless you really take extreme care, you will not be able to stay anonymous - which makes the question all the more important. $\endgroup$ – yankeekilo Dec 22 '13 at 9:06
  • $\begingroup$ Just to clarify, you are asking if someone can sue an individual for actions outside of the site solely on the basis of content that they have added to this site? $\endgroup$ – asheeshr Dec 26 '13 at 6:02
  • $\begingroup$ I'll try to rephrase as a hypothetical: I'm wondering if a pilot who asks a question here could get into an accident or incident and sue those who provided answers to that question. Similarly, if a pilot dies in an accident and got information from this site, could their family sue those who answered the question? $\endgroup$ – egid Dec 26 '13 at 17:17
  • $\begingroup$ Really difficult question as it must embrace all jurisdiction in which there are pilots able to access the content of this site (can read English and use an Internet access), i.e. almost all country worldwide. $\endgroup$ – Manu H Oct 28 '14 at 7:10
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I think the standard thing to do would be to include a disclaimer in your profile, something to the effect of:

Anything I say here that sounds like advice on aircraft operation is obviously very general. You should always consider your own situation, remember your training, and fly the airplane!

(stolen, more or less, from the UCAP disclaimer)

Another good one is

Though I am a CFI I am not YOUR CFI. My posts here represent my own opinion, and not those of my employer or the FAA. You should consult your CFI and aircraft operating handbook for specific information and instructional guidance.

(made up on the fly, and I'm not a lawyer -- may the force not sue me and such.)

If you're a member of AOPA and forking over for their legal services plan it may be worth a 20 minute phone call with one of their lawyers to come up with language that an aviation lawyer thinks is at least mostly bulletproof, but generally such disclaimers can stand well enough with "common sense" language.

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    $\begingroup$ This is what I was considering (and have since done). I'll probably give AOPA legal services a call, since I pay for it as a self-imposed part of being a CFI anyway :) $\endgroup$ – egid Dec 24 '13 at 4:00
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    $\begingroup$ This also feeds back into encouraging those asking questions to evaluate the sources of their answers. Obviously we want Aviation.SE to be a treated quality resource, but I think it should be demonstrated where available that there are 'sources of truth' out there (rules and regulations, etc). Even just a quote and link to the source, accompanied by an interpretation specific to the question domain would be a nice start for cases that fit. $\endgroup$ – Kyle Dec 25 '13 at 12:04
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I think the answer is yes in theory, but I would be more worried about people incriminating themselves than about becoming liable for other people's actions. The pilot is ultimately responsible for operating the aircraft legally, and in the event of a violation saying that "I was just following what some random guy on the internet said" is unlikely to be much of a defence.

On the other hand, there have already been threads on the AOPA forums and others where people have posted links to Youtube videos showing themselves doing things that may or may not have been legal, or posted questions about "hypothetical" scenarios that seemed oddly specific. In at least one case the poster was contacted by the FAA, although apparently not as an enforcement action and no one can say for sure if it was a result of the forum post. The consensus of AOPA opinion was that it's stupid to post things like that in the first place and even more stupid to continue discussing them in a public forum while the FAA is known to be trying to contact you.

At least one poster here has already admitted multiple violations although since he was in contact with ATC in each case it's presumably not something to worry about. But posting questions or answers that potentially incriminate yourself or someone else is a real possibility, at least in theory.

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    $\begingroup$ Yeah, this is a very good point. I think that in cases like you linked, it's not a very big deal (in that they've already been in contact with the FAA, filled out a NASA form, etc). However, the eerily-specific-hypotheticals are probably something we should be on the lookout for. I wonder if those are cases where the post should be deleted and the user encouraged to contact a lawyer? :) $\endgroup$ – egid Dec 24 '13 at 4:02
  • $\begingroup$ @egid It's difficult: a hypothetical question or a friend of a friend can be exactly that. I suppose the key question is who can/should we try to protect and from what? My feeling right now is that in specific cases we could gently suggest that people consider who may be reading their posts, but going beyond that is nearly impossible anyway for various reasons, starting with the point that genuine legal issues are often unidentifiable and/or incomprehensible to non-lawyers. $\endgroup$ – Pondlife Dec 27 '13 at 20:12
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This is a very real issue, and I believe that we should come up with a standard disclaimer that appears at the bottom of every page, much like the cc-wiki disclaimer that covers user contributions now.

If an opinion from here contributed to an accident or incident in this industry, the lawyers would go after the person who wrote it as well as the owners of the site!

I'd be happy to contact AOPA legal services to get the right wording if it will be used for the entire site.

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  • $\begingroup$ Would the statement "well, I read it on the internet so I figured I would do it" really hold up in court though? It seems like anyone offering an answer here would have some de facto protection simply because taking advice from a QA site (as opposed to official documents on official sites) seems pretty indefensible. $\endgroup$ – Jay Carr Jun 6 '15 at 23:49
  • $\begingroup$ @jaycarr Do you really believe that it would stop the lawyers from trying though? $\endgroup$ – Lnafziger Jun 8 '15 at 13:43
  • $\begingroup$ With how much it costs to pursue a legal dead end? Yes, I do. But, you know, I'm also a big fan of "better safe than sorry", so in the end I think I support your idea. A disclaimer is probably a good idea. $\endgroup$ – Jay Carr Jun 8 '15 at 16:46
  • $\begingroup$ @JayCarr Lawyers pursue poor arguments all the time if they think it has any chance at all of working. There is some cost to them if it doesn't work, but a potentially large payday for them if it does. For example, some lawyer started pursuing a class-action suit against Boeing a day or two after MH370 went missing, despite having absolutely no evidence at all that its disappearance had anything at all to do with anything Boeing did or didn't do. And they are occasionally lucky enough to get a stupid jury who sides with them, which is why they try. $\endgroup$ – reirab Oct 6 '17 at 14:59
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Don't worry about it. Hiring a lawyer to go after someone who gave bad advice on Stack Exchange is a highly expensive waste of time and effort. You wouldn't win and even if you would, it's not worth the headache. People don't sue over these things in real life.

I am aware this is a rather bold statement, but remember you can get into legal trouble for anything. You don't have to break the law, do, say or think of something wrong, be careless or ignorant. All it takes is to upset someone enough that he'd want to take legal action. Therefore, you should ask yourself whether your answers here would be upsetting enough that someone might want to spend a small fortune and two years of his life retaliating, rather than clicking the downvote button. Unless you're convinced the answer is 'yes', the question of to what extent you are actually responsible for others taking your advice, is irrelevant. Don't worry about it.

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    $\begingroup$ I think that your points about retaliation are fair, but you have to remember that this is about aviation, the industry that (at least in the US) had a huge portion of itself literally almost shut down for over 10 years because of litigation. Families of crash victims will sue almost anybody who has any connection to the pilot or the aircraft; I'm not sure users of a Q&A website would be immune to that. $\endgroup$ – egid Dec 22 '13 at 19:56

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