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In reading online, I've come across the term "pencil-whipping". The actual term is new to me but I'm familiar with the practice; it's when someone fills out the paperwork that attests something is true, without actually verifying it himself (at least not to the standards required). Technically that's fraud, but it's also usually a "who'll watch the watchmen" situation; if you don't know what the guy is required to do and watch him do it, or else call in a second opinion, you won't know anything's been skipped.

I purchased a home a few years ago, and the home inspector did a good job of finding the things we'd have to get fixed. If he hadn't though, State of Texas requires these inspectors to have "errors and omissions insurance" on top of a "general liability" policy. If the inspector said he has checked something though he didn't; or he made a mistake checking it; or he didn't check something he was supposed to, he and his insurer are liable for any damages resulting from the new homeowner trusting that report. This generally discourages pencil-whipping in the home buying industry, as after the first instance of the insurer having to pay out for an electrical fire caused by an outlet the inspector attested to be fine, the guy's likely out of a job.

The question here is, do A&Ps in the United States carry a similar liability? If I were to hire a guy and pay him thousands of dollars for a pre-purchase inspection of an aircraft, get the all-clear, buy it and then find out the aircraft actually isn't airworthy because of something he missed, what recourse do I personally have against the inspector? How would I report this misfeasance and to whom? Assuming nobody was hurt and I just have a loan payment on a museum piece (or a fat unexpected repair bill), what damages can I claim?

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  • $\begingroup$ Please specify what laws that you are asking about. I'm assuming US/FAA since you mention the state of Texas.... $\endgroup$ – Lnafziger Jul 24 '15 at 20:06
  • $\begingroup$ Minor comment on terminology: an ASI, Aviation Safety Inspector, is an FAA inspector, a "Fed." His job is doing inspections for the FAA, not for buyers. You're probably thinking of an A&P who is "inspection authorized" or IA -- that's more likely to be the guy you can hire to do the sort of inspection you're referring to. It's might be possible that somebody who happens to be an ASI could be willing to do an inspection like you're talking about, but he'd be doing it as an IA A&P, rather than as a Fed. $\endgroup$ – Ralph J Jul 24 '15 at 22:01
  • $\begingroup$ Edited to refer to the correct person. $\endgroup$ – KeithS Jul 24 '15 at 22:02
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There's a good article on this question for the US here (you mentioned Texas). The relevant FAR is 14 CFR 43.12:

§43.12 Maintenance records: Falsification, reproduction, or alteration

a) No person may make or cause to be made:

(1) Any fraudulent or intentionally false entry in any record or report that is required to be made, kept, or used to show compliance with any requirement under this part;

In other words, no pencil whipping. And if you do it and get caught, then the FAA can suspend or even revoke your A&P certificate.

But, that's only part of the story. The FARs say nothing about civil liability and state law. Even if a mechanic does everything correctly according to the FARs, someone can still sue him if they believe they have a civil case for negligence (just like suing a doctor or any other professional).

And that's where this question probably becomes unanswerable on this site: local (state) law will determine what - if any - liability the mechanic has. In the end it will come down to what's in your contract with the A&P, what your state laws on professional liability are, and what the specific circumstances of your case are.

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I only can speak for Canada but we use much of the American regulations in Canada as part of our regulations. In Canada, all mission critical systems Ie flight control systems etc ... have to be signed off by 2 inspectors for a total of 3 people working on the system. The maintenance engineer will sign of there own work and the inspector will sign off the inspection. A second inspector will sign off the secondary inspection. So typically if there is an error one person is typically not solely responsible for it. Additionally all inspectors and maintenance engineers licenses are only valid while working for a maintenance organization AMO. The organisation's insurance typically covers the employees working for them. When I went through my licensing I was told that we could still be held liable for criminal prosecution if we were willfully negligent. It was explained to us this only incurred once previously. If memory serves me correctly it was the mechanic responsible for a plane that went down in the Florida everglades.

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  • $\begingroup$ Is this the case even for inspections and maintenance on light aircraft like Cessna 172s or whatever? $\endgroup$ – Pondlife Jul 24 '15 at 20:08
  • $\begingroup$ Yes it is. There is no difference in the inspection requirements. $\endgroup$ – Mark Jul 25 '15 at 15:47

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