How To Treat A Lawyer,,,,
It has been several years and is the only time I, as a businessman, have ever had to deal with a lawyer. The incident hasn't changed the way I do business but it is rather humorous, to say the least.
The alleged involment of my business in providing incorrect prop bolts for an ultralight was the situation I found myself in. I barely remembered the name of the person mentioned over the phone but definitely did remember, somehow, that I had sold this guy something, so when the investigator for the lawyer representing this person wanted to visit me and discuss the situation, I agreed.
Before this investigator arrived, I researched my records and found that I had indeed sold this person some items for an MX, not the Phantom or whatever the investigator had mentioned over the phone. The parts I had sold this person were rather mundane replacement stuff such as fuel filters, sparkplugs and the like. But after reviewing the records, I also noted that I had sold him what I refer to as 'crash parts'. These are parts likely to become bent or unuseable during a crash.
Almost anyone who buys crash parts is teaching himself to fly or else has had some really bad luck in a groundhog hole. Nose struts, and tension struts almost last the life of the plane if not abused by a lack of training. I thought about calling the investigator and telling him that I had never sold any parts for the Phantom but decided against it after some thought. I felt that a face off with him might be a learning experience for me about lawyers and how they operate. I had always heard I was in a problem business selling airplane stuff but hadn't ever been involved nor had I heard of much going on around me either.
I also called two friends at the Nulltown Ultralight group and asked about this person. They said that he had sold the MX a year or so earlier and purchased a Phantom. They also said he had flown it without instruction of any kind, and veered into the trees about five hundred feet down the runway, destroying the front end. I had an invoice for a piece of Lexan windshield material too which jived with this crash.
The reason for the lawsuit became apparaent when the investigator showed up. He was ex military, crew cut, white shirt, narrow tie, shined shoes, etc. A very spiffy kinda guy, very business like and a world apart from me and the way I dress and act. He showed me the prop which had separarted from the drive pulley by shearing the four retaining bolts. The bolts were grade eight bolts since they had the typical six slash marks around the rim. They were yellow cad plated and looked very similar to grade eight bolts sold at ractor supply.
The bolts were still somewaht neatly safety wired in adjacent pairs. They had sheared at the end of the thread which was just protruding from the rear face of the prop. I asked if I could cut one of the safety wires and remove one of the bolts for a closer inspection and he agreed. The bolt was new, still shiny, and removing it didn't shed any further light on the problem.
My plan was to be as open and above board with this person as I could be, at least until he got nasty or handed me some paperwork which might cost me money. I showed him around my garage, and the bolt bins especially. Every bin was checked and shown to be aircraft quality bolts, with the fine threads and the short threaded length compared to the grade eights in the prop. Of all the bins in the garage, I did show him two bins that held silver colored bolts, one quarter inch, much shorter, that were used on the first landings gears I had purchased from a manufacturer in Florida. After several snapped, I only used them for fixtures and jigs and showed him several small jigs with these bolts used in their construction.
I suggested that we go to the airport as there were several planes out there with similar bolted props, and that we should take my suburban since it was somewhat dusty on the road to the airport. It was going to be a hot day and what with the dusty road, the missing rear glass, and all the windows down so the dogs could bark at their friends along the way, by the time we got to the airport, it was all I could do to contain my enjoyment at this mans discomfort.
We carefully went through all the bolt bins at the airport, and there are hundreds, by the way, all the relevant lengths of 3/16, 1/4, 5/16, 3/8, and many eyebolts, forkbolts, special purpose bolts. I also showed him all the planes with bolted props, and how some had nuts on the back face of the drive flange, how some had threaded into the flange with saftey nuts and how some screwed directly into the drive pulley, just as the subject prop had been attached. I showed him the lengths of the bolts I used, and combined with the backing plate, and the prop thickness, how the lenghths were chosen so they would not bottom out like the broken bolts possibly had done.
I took a used prop and some bolts and demonstrated how the force to turn the prop should be provided by the face of the driver pulley and the load required to press them against each other coming from the prop bolts. Never should the prop bolts drive the prop in shear. This is dangerous and I took a bolt and placed it in my vise. and bent the bolt back and forth a few times before it broke.
We inspected the prop and I showed him that in all likelyhood, with the unthreaded bolt just sticking out the bottom of the face of his damaged prop, the bolts had bottomed out prior to providing sufficient torque between the prop face and the pulley face to drive the prop. This placed the bolts in a very high frequency shear situation which led to a very early failure of the bolts.
He wouldn't agree to anything I said, just grunted that he understodd, but no agreement. He realized a 'yes' anywhere along here would destroy his now waning case, with me at least.
He wasn't looking forward to the ride back to my house but walking the nine miles didn't appeal to him either. So with the dust coming up through the floorboards, the dogs barking, and the wind blowing, we drove back to my house in town. He was rather quiet as he had long since run out of questions to ask. And he had been 'learnt' more things about bolts for ultralights than he really wanted to know.
When we arrived at the house, he seemed anxious to get back to Indianapolis, but I had a few things he needed to hear before leaving.
When I had called my two friends in Connersville, IN, about this upcoming visit, I had been kidded by both that I was going to lose my 'fortune' I had amassed from selling parts over the years. Yeah, sure, my big fortune selling ultralight parts at prices usually below the market, yep, big money. I also had been kidded about this incident from two other customers when they placed orders. The word was out and being spread by the plaintiff that I had hurt him through my negligence. These words will cost you money if they are true in almost any business, risky or not. But I didn't have any grade eight bolts, we checked the bins, and I was smart enough to not use them, and we checked all the planes, both new and old to show this. I had never sold these bolts to him or anyone and it was time to play my last card. I told the investigator that if I heard anymore comments that I had wronged this person, I would file a counter suit against both the plaintif and this law firm and the investigator personally for slander. I stated that he needed to speak with the client and make sure that no more slanderous statements were made, and since I had more than fully demonstarted not only the how and why of the bolt failure in question but my total lack of involvement to the law firm, that further statements of my guilt would involve them also.
I took time to write down the mans name, firm, what we did, why we did it, and we went and ran a copy of it for him to take back with him. We both signed it and dated it, acknowledging we each had a copy, not that he would agree to the content but that he had participated in the numerous bolt bin checks and prop checks. He would be a witness if it went any further.
I then told him that I would offer no more information unless I had a lawyer and only if there was a counter suit against them and their client for malicious defamation of character, and when he left, he was probably convinced that I was indeed a 'character".
BTW, I have never heard another word from him, his law firm, or the plaintiff/client. Several of the locals where the accident occurred called to find out what had happened and I told them the whole story. Most of these type incidents are hidden and kept secret from the ultralight industry. My approach was that the facts should be known to all, and learned from, and that the lawsuit itself could not stand the light of day. And so it was,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,