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Legislation Would Expand "Good Samaritan" Protections for Volunteer Pilots and Groups

BULLETIN: Updated May 1, 2008

PLEASE FORWARD THIS MESSAGE TO ALL OF YOUR VOLUNTEER PILOTS, OFFICERS AND DIRECTORS!

WE HAVE RECEIVED WORD THAT SENATOR IMHOFE (R. OK) THAT HE HAS INTRODUCED THE VOLUNTEER PILOT ORGANIZATION PROTECTION ACT AS AN AMENDMENT (S.A. 4606) TO THE PENDING FAA REAUTHORIZATION BILL (H.R. 2881).   [ See the press release from Senator Inhofe's office below ]

PLEASE TELEPHONE EACH OF YOUR TWO SENATORS AND ASK THEM TO SUPPORT THIS AMENDMENT (S.A. 4606). THE TELEPHONE NUMBERS FOR YOUR SENATORS CAN BE FOUND AT http://www.senate.gov.

THIS IS OUR FIRST AND BEST OPPORTUNITY FOR THE SENATE TO PASS THIS VITAL LEGISLATION.

THANK YOU FOR YOUR HELP.

Jeff Kahn for the
AIR CARE ALLIANCE

jskesq@aol.com

RELATED NEWS RELEASE FROM SENATOR INHOFE'S OFFICE:

April 30, 2008

WASHINGTON, D.C. -Today, U.S. Senator Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) introduced an amendment (S.A.4606) to the FAA Reauthorization bill to extend liability protection to volunteer pilots, volunteer pilot organizations (VPO), such as the Air Charity Network (ACN) and Angel Flight Oklahoma, and institutions that refer patients to volunteer pilot organizations, like the American Red Cross, as they conduct their life-saving missions.

"Volunteer pilot organizations organize volunteer pilots to provide free air transportation for people in need of specialized medical treatment at distant locations due to family, community or national crises," Inhofe said. "These pilots and charitable organizations provide invaluable service, yet due to a loophole in the law, are subject to frivolous, costly lawsuits."

Inhofe's legislation will amend the Volunteer Protection Act of 1997 to include liability protection for volunteer pilots and the boards, paid staff and non-flying volunteers of non-profit volunteer pilot organizations and referring institutions. The Volunteer Protection Act of 1997 currently provides liability protection for volunteers across various sectors but does not cover volunteers who operate aircraft nor does it cover the associated non-profits and referring institutions.

To emphasize the importance of these organizations, Inhofe cited the recent role of VPOs in crises: "Following the September 11th terrorist attacks, ACN aircraft were the first to be approved to fly-in disaster-response teams and supplies. Similarly, in 2005, ACN pilots flew over 2,600 missions after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, reuniting families torn apart by the disaster and relocating them to safe housing.

"In Oklahoma, volunteer pilots routinely transport patients from rural parts of the state to larger hospitals, like M.D. Anderson in Houston and Shriners Hospital for Children in Galveston, where they can get specialized, life-saving care.

"Congress needs to ensure that these volunteer pilots and the organizations for which they fly are exempt from liability and able to continue providing this important service."

Inhofe previously introduced this measure as a stand-alone bill.

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PRIOR INFORMATION:  NOT UPDATED - FOR REFERENCE PURPOSES ONLY

VOLUNTEER PILOT ORGANIZATION PROTECTION ACT IS MOVING - WAS REINTRODUCED IN HOUSE AND SENATE IN 2005

House Bill H 1879 and Senate Bill S 929 = OLD BILL NUMBERS

Latest News: the House version has passed the House Judiciary Committee with amending language.

In 2005 the legislation passed the House 385 - 12 ! 

The campaign then moved to the Senate.

However, it did not make it through committee and into deliberation before the Senate in this session. We have heard that the distractions of election season and the many other matters before the committee and the Senate meant the volunteer protection  legislation was put on the back burner.  In addition we understand some Senate Committee members were concerned that the language might not permit injured parties to recover damages from available insurance.

Thus the issue had to wait - until now.

The aviation community has been asked by the sponsors to write and visit their elected officials. We will send out announcements to our regular newsletter and email bulletin list as we receive information.

If you are not currently receiving our announcements, please find information to join our list by clicking this link.

dsc04616-smallfile.jpg (101447 bytes)

House Judiciary Committee Chaired by Rep. James Sensenbrenner Discussing Liability Issues on September 8, 2004 (click to enlarge) Photo by Rol Murrow

Bill sponsors ask for your help, including your letters to your Representatives and Senators

These bills, H. 1871 sponsored by Rep. Thelma Drake (Va.) and S. 929 sponsored by Sen. George Allen (Va.), are identical to the legislation passed by the House of Representatives last fall.  

We have been informed by the sponsors' offices that to clarify language the bills have passed the House Judiciary Committee with amendments.  In essence the new language provides that pilots must carry reasonable liability insurance and that injured parties may recover damages to the limits of that insurance.

We are very pleased to note that the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA), the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA), and the National Air Transport Association (NATA) gave the legislation strong support last time around and are doing so again now. We encourage other aviation and public service organizations to follow their lead.

The legislative sponsors of the Volunteer Pilot Organization Protection Act need additional sponsors from the House and Senate and have asked that all volunteer pilot organizations and pilots call or write their Representatives and Senators to ask for them to join as sponsors to support each bill and to move it to a vote without delay.  

If you are not receiving our bulletins please be sure to join our email list so you will learn about such new information as soon as it becomes available.

See the full information below and use the following in composing your letters and making your calls:

House Sponsors ask volunteer pilots for help in lining up sponsors in the Senate

Dear Leaders, Volunteers, and Supporters for Public Benefit Flying,

This message is of vital importance to you, your groups, and all their volunteers.

In 2002 Congressman Ed Schrock of Virginia originally introduced the Volunteer Pilot Organization Protection Act. The legislation was intended to provide much needed liability relief for volunteer pilots and groups by amending the existing Volunteer Protection Act of 1997 (42 USC 14503), adding relief for volunteer pilots and their groups to the protections originally provided for others in that "Good Samaritan" law. This new legislation was proposed by Ed Boyer of Mercy Medical Airlift, a constituent of Rep. Schrock.

Last year the legislation passed the House 385 - 12 but stalled in the Senate.  It has now been reintroduced in both houses in the current session.

If enacted, this legislation would address liability concerns that have permeated public benefit flying, particularly in these times of limited, high cost, or unavailable liability insurance. The bills have been referred to the House and Senate Judiciary Committees.

We are circulating this information at the request of Sarah Hamlett of Representative Drake's office and Jason Money of Senator Allen's office so you are aware of the effort and can choose to participate.

The Air Care Alliance fully supports this initiative. The subject was discussed at length at the last three years'  Air Care conferences and in email bulletins sent to the groups and their leaders. Subsequently many groups and their volunteers wrote in support of the legislation and many sponsors have signed on.

You, your organization, and its supporters can help at this time by sending a short letter urging your own Representatives and Senators to co-sponsor and vote for this legislation. 

Information has already been sent directly to the various public benefit flying groups summarizing the issues and providing sample letters for use. They have been asked to circulate that information to their members and to urge them to write in support of the legislation. If you receive the information we ask that you read it carefully and lend every bit of support you can.

You can also send the link to this page via email to all the volunteer pilots and other supporters you know, and ask them to help.

We also provide here the sample letters distributed by legislative staff members, as well as instructions on how to send your letters. Regardless of how you receive the information the sponsors ask that you act immediately.

WHAT YOU CAN DO

According to legislative staff it is vital that every public benefit flying group send formal letters to their Representatives and Senators representing their states.

And it is also extremely important that actual volunteer pilots and leaders from these groups write their own letters explaining their PERSONAL REASONS for supporting the legislation.

Personal meetings with your officials are also very valuable, especially if you know them, so they can ask you any questions they may have about the legislation and its importance to you and your group. Please consider visiting them at their offices, in your community, or in Washington if you will be traveling there.

A suggested checklist for action is as follows:

1) Review the sample letters below and draft your own version of the letters explaining your or your group's reasons for supporting the legislation and why it is important for your community. Letters are much more effective than emails or calls.  They can be mailed but also fax them, since mailed letters are subject to long delays for security screening.

Please be sure to include the paragraph with information about how your Representative or Senator should contact the Sponsor in order to co-sponsor the legislation.  Also replace the various blanks with the names of the Representative or Senators, using the correct letter template.

Click on these Sample letters for download or copying:

     U.S. Senators                Word file version     web page version  

     U.S. Representatives    Word file version     web page version  

2) Keep your letters short and to the point such as you see in the draft letters. You are well advised to include one "talking point" example as discussed below.

3) Attach any lengthy explanations or examples in a SEPARATE supplementary document to your letter, such as a "white paper."  Feel free to also send as an attachment a discussion of your group and the important work it does for your community.  But please keep your primary letter short and to the point.

4) Talking points: we provide a list of important points below. Sponsors are especially looking for personal examples of situations that illustrate these points.  If you can cite one story that fits such a point, please include it in your letter. You can use your point(s) in addition to or in place of the one given in the letter.

It is better to choose one point for your letter and illustrate it well with specifics rather than to present a rehash of all the talking points. If you have many examples please include them in your attachment, not in the letter itself. You may also include in your attachment useful information about your group.

5) Address your letters to each of your Senators and your Representative, using the address information noted below, and print them out. 

6) Because time is short first FAX your letters to both Senators and the Representative representing you and your area.  Then mail the originals.

Fax numbers and Washington DC office addresses for all your representatives are available at the following website. Just enter your zip code or address and your representatives' contact information will appear.

FIND YOUR REPRESENTATIVES:  http://www.visi.com/juan/congress/  

7) Final step: please afterwards also email or fax copies of your three letters to us at the following email address or fax number and we will send copies to those involved in this effort.

email copies (PDF or .doc files] to action@aircareall.org  
  or    
FAX to ACA at 815 572-9192

Questions or comments?  Send a note to action@aircareall.org 


SUPPORTIVE INFORMATION:

Talking Points:

1) Unpaid volunteers for most nonprofit organizations are provided "Good Samaritan" protections under existing law.  Unfortunately, volunteer pilots were not covered by the first Volunteer Protection Act. We only ask that volunteer pilots and their groups be provided similar protections since we also are providing valuable free services for the needy and for our communities.

2) Pilots donate their time, skills, and their aircraft flying to help others. In this day of excessive judgments involving aviation we ask that we be given Good Samaritan protections similar to those who volunteer in other ways.

3) Our group especially needs the services of pilots who fly the faster, larger aircraft, but because of their higher exposure for liability these pilots are more reluctant to take on missions. We believe we would be better able to serve the needy and our communities if these larger aircraft were available.  (If possible please cite a specific person who will not fly for those reasons).

4) Our public benefit flying group has not been able to find affordable supplemental insurance to adequately protect our organization and its volunteers. 

5) Costs for supplemental insurance for our nonprofit group have gone from $___ to $___ and this places an unacceptable burden on the group.  These dollars could better be spent on recruitment and outreach expenses so we can find more volunteers and coordinate more missions.

If you have other good arguments to add to these please let us know about them - contact action@aircareall.org

 

ABOUT THE LEGISLATION:

The actual bills can be read at the following links - the information is identical in the House and Senate versions, although it may change with amendments and new bills with changes may replace them:

HR 1871 Volunteer Pilot Organization Protection Act (House) http://www.theorator.com/bills109/hr1871.html

S. 955 Volunteer Pilot Organization Protection Act (Senate) http://www.theorator.com/bills109/s929.html

The language in the bills actually modifies the original "Good Samaritan" provisions.  You can see that language in the 1997 Volunteer Protection Act of 1997 at:  http://www.explorium.org/PL_105-19.htm

It has long been the position of most Volunteer Pilot Organizations (VPO's) that they do not "fly" the missions conducted by their volunteer pilots or take operational responsibility for them. Most groups and their coordinators simply see their existence and operations as facilitating a patient or other needy person finding a willing volunteer who is able to help them.  This would be like a church or nonprofit service agency finding a volunteer automobile driver to deliver food to the hungry or to give a needy patient a ride to a medical facility.  Most volunteer pilots and their groups also require those they help to sign waivers in order to provide transportation.

Nevertheless on the rare occasion of an accident a pilot may prove to be at financial risk from claims involving the transportation, and it is possible for groups and non-flying volunteers to likewise be the target of a suit.  Insurance at normal limits will be available for most pilots but because this activity is so specialized groups - especially the smaller groups - report difficulties finding affordable coverage.

The legislation intends to  accomplish the following for those involved in public benefit flying:  

1.  A Volunteer Pilot Organizations (VPO) as a non-profit charity would be exempted from liability should there be an accident involving one of its volunteer pilots flying a mission coordinated by them. 

2.  Officers, employees, and non-flying volunteers of such VPO's would be exempted from liability should there be an accident involving one of their volunteer pilots flying such a mission.

3.  Agencies, organizations, or individuals such as doctors, hospitals, Shriners, Red Cross, etc. who refer patients or passengers to VPO's would be exempted from liability should there be an accident involving any person they referred to the VPO.  

4.  Volunteer pilots themselves would be exempted from any uncovered liability over and above the amount of liability insurance coverage that they carry.  Of course currently most groups require member  volunteer pilots to have liability insurance in order to be referred for a mission.

CAN MY NONPROFIT GROUP PROVIDE THIS INFORMATION TO ITS MEMBERS?

Please note that while nonprofit groups may inform their members about legislation and may also take positions on it, there are certain restrictions on the amount of actual resources an organization may devote to advocacy regarding legislation. And in some cases reports must be filed. We will add a note about that below.

Individuals, of course, may participate without such limits on their advocacy work.

Information from the Air Care 2003 National Conference:
  for nonprofit groups only - this does not apply to individuals:

Charitable organizations must bear in mind that their lobbying activities are limited by Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. This section provides in part that, "no substantial part of the activities of [the organization] . . . is carrying on propaganda, or otherwise attempting, to influence legislation (except as provided in subsection (h)) . . .

For electing 501(c)(3) organizations, Section 501(h) essentially sets permissible percentages for expenditures for lobbying and grass roots efforts. The election is made by filing Form 5768 with the Internal Revenue Service. An organization making this election will only need to demonstrate on Form 990 that its expenditures are within the percentage limitations. Non-electing charities must disclose both the amount of expenditures and detail its lobbying expenditures so that the IRS can determine whether the activities are "substantial" and therefore violate the provision of Section 501(c)(3) quoted above.

Thus there are obvious advantageous for those charities who qualify (some do not) to make the 501(h) election if they intend to carry on any lobbying activities. Obviously the above explanation is oversimplified and each organization should check with its tax advisor before engaging in lobbying activities and/or making a 501(h) election by filing Form 5768.

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           Thank you for flying to help others!

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