When you rent an aircraft from an FBO or some other aircraft owner, you know that as pilot-in-command you have responsibility for operating that aircraft in compliance with the FARs. But other than having to face the wrath of the FAA, what is your responsibility if something bad happens during a flight (e.g. an accident)? Ideally, you hope you have insurance to cover you. Unfortunately, when you rent an aircraft, that may not always be the case. The estate of a renter pilot found that out the hard way in a recent case.
In Knezovich v. Hallmark Insurance Co., a student pilot rented an aircraft from an FBO. While he was operating the aircraft solo, he was involved in a midair collision that took his life, as well as the life of the pilot and passenger in the other aircraft. A number of wrongful death lawsuits ensued. Additionally, the estate of the deceased student pilot sued the insurance company that insured the aircraft seeking a judgment declaring that the insurer owed the estate a duty to defend and indemnify the estate in the wrongful death lawsuits.
Ultimately, the Court determined that the insurer was not required to defend or indemnify the estate of the deceased student pilot because the policy language specifically excluded coverage for a pilot, student or otherwise, who rented an aircraft. Since the student pilot rented the aircraft for a solo flight, rather than a flight in which he received instruction from one of the FBO's flight instructors, the Court held that the insurance policy did not provide coverage.
Although this is an unfortunate situation for the deceased pilot's estate, this case serves as a reminder to anyone who rents aircraft to confirm that insurance coverage is in place that will protect the renter. It isn't enough to simply ask the FBO or aircraft owner whether they have insurance. You need to be sure that coverage is in place to protect you, the person renting the aircraft. If the aircraft owner's or FBO's insurance doesn't provide coverage, you need to know that so you can understand your risk and either obtain coverage elsewhere or go without.
For more information regarding aircraft insurance, please read my articles Aircraft Insurance Coverage: Will You Have It When You Need It? and My Policy Says What?!: Understanding An Aircraft Insurance Policy.