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					                                                   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

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