Heath v. Swift Wings Case Brief

Summary of Heath v. Swift Wings, Ct App N. Carolina [1979]

Professional Negligence-The Standard of Care

Relevant Facts: An airplane crashed immediately after takeoff. On board the plane were the pilot, Fred Heath, his wife, and their son, and a family friend Vance Smathers. All were killed. Mrs. Smathers, prior to takeoff, observed Fred load and then reload the passengers and luggage to improve the balance. After starting the plane it taxied very close to the end of the runway, gained altitude, but did not go very high. She then saw the plane level off pretty low. A mechanical engineer and pilot testified that the pilot should have used flaps to aid in the takeoff. He also opined that a reasonably and ordinarily prudent pilot would have made a controlled landing in the adjacent cornfield after experiencing problem upon takeoff.

Legal Issue(s): Whether the standard of care was what that of a reasonable person or a reasonable pilot?

Court’s Holding: R. Person, but with a variable degree to account for the specialty of pilots.

Procedure: Estates of wife and son brought action against the estate of pilot and owner of plane. Jury determined that pilot was not negligent. Reversed and remanded for new trial.

Law or Rule(s): The standard of care required of an individual is the conduct of the reasonably prudent man under the same or similar circumstances. The quantity or degree of care required may vary with the attendant circumstances.

Court Rationale: The professional standard remains an objective standard. The standard of professional competence and care customary in similar communities among all pilots. The trial ct improperly introduced a subjective standard: “an ordinary prudent pilot having the same training and experience as Fred Heath." This allows any jury to impose a different standard of care upon each individual. People possessing a special skill in a particular endeavor must exercise the requisite degree of learning skill and ability of that calling with reasonable and ordinary care.

Plaintiff’s Argument: The standard should be that Fred Heath failed to adhere to a standard of care to act as a reasonable and prudent person, exercising the degree of learning, skill, and ability of pilots with reasonable and ordinary care.

Defendant’s Argument: The standard of care should be determined by whether the pilot acted with reasonable and ordinary care of a reasonably and prudent person under the same or similar circumstances.




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