ert Feldman’s risk-management lecture at pilot chute of her new Sun Path Javelin from during its defense of the Weller suit.
PIA Meeting last February’s symposium in Reno. its pouch. She eventually deployed her re- Sun Path’s defense was hampered early
(continued from page 22) Schlatter is a longtime jumper who for serve at what investigators concluded was a on when the judge ruled that the DZ’s
decades has been an active professional in low altitude. The subsequent rough landing hold-harmless agreement did not prevent
been given similar authority in years past. the sport. He has a busy demonstration-jump knocked her unconscious and injured her a Weller from proceeding with her suit against
Although the vote of the Atlanta meeting business, jumping into high-profile events bit. Apparently there were no witnesses. (A the rig manufacturer.
commits PIA to a symposium next year, the across the U.S. DZ employee said no one knew anything The syntax of a key paragraph of the doc-
event is contingent on the association’s ex- Feldman, who is also a veteran skydiver, was wrong until the next load took off and its ument was ambiguous; it wasn’t clear if the
ecutive committee signing a contract for it. is a Florida attorney who frequently repre- pilot saw someone lying near a runway.) document applied to the gear owned and
“From this it would seem that if there is sents parachute manufacturers and drop Weller’s reserve pilot chute was found to jumped by experienced jumpers.
no viable contract for the executive commit- zones on liability matters. Over the years he have a tear in its canopy. She and husband
tee to sign, then there is no event,” PIA presi- has been a regular speaker at the PIA sympo- Bruce Cochran sued Sun Path for building a Sun Path’s defense was
dent Schmucker said the next day. sium. defective product.
In other words, although at this point PIA Feldman defended Sun Path Products Some people say the tear was a small one hampered early on when
leaders believe the event will be a resound- when the rig manufacturer was successfully when they saw it, but when the pilot chute the judge ruled that the
ing success, they’re not afraid to kill the pro- sued as a result of a 2001 accident at was produced later, the canopy was torn
ject if it becomes evident it would harm the Zephyrhills, Fla. from the entire circumference of the pilot DZ’s hold-harmless
organization or otherwise be a bad idea. The accident involved Diane Weller of chute’s cap. agreement did not prevent
In separate business during the meeting, nearby Clearwater, who was injured on a Weller and Cochran hired Schlatter to
PIA said no to a skydiver who asked that the routine RW jump. Weller had several hun- serve as an expert witness to testify in the Weller from proceeding
association distribute a form letter from him. dred jumps at the time. support of their claim. with her suit against the rig
Texas skydiver Mark Schlatter asked PIA After breaking off from a mid-sized RW Schlatter holds FAA Master Rigger, Pri-
to send the letter to those who attended Rob- formation, Weller had trouble extracting the vate Pilot and A&P Mechanic certificates
and is an FAA designated rigger examiner.
He also received a Master of Science degree The case eventually made its way to trial
from Purdue University. He occasionally and Weller and her husband won. One
writes for this magazine. source said the jury awarded them damages
Expert witnesses are frequently hired by of $320,000, but that figure could not be
both defendants and plaintiffs to bolster confirmed by press time. But it ruled Weller
their arguments in court. They are essen- was 60% responsible for the accident, and
tially paid consultants who have expertise in this reduced the award by that percentage.
a particular field. The couple paid their own legal fees.
“Serving as an expert witness is one in- Neither Cochran nor Weller returned
vigorating and profitable form of consult- SKYDIVING’S telephone call.
ing, a way to capitalize on many years of Several months after the verdict, attorney
experience and study,” writes Dan Poynter, a Feldman used the Weller case to illustrate
skydiver who’s written a popular book on his risk-management lecture at the 2007
the subject. Over the years Poynter has fre- symposium. He reminded his audience that
quently been an expert witness in lawsuits hold-harmless agreements are often effec-
involving parachutes. Sun Path used him tive in thwarting successful lawsuits, but
24 — SKYDIVING — ISSUE #310 — May 2007