While traveling by airplane or helicopter is relatively a safe means of transportation, when aviation accidents do occur, they are dramatic, tragic, and almost always involve fatalities. The media less frequently cover aviation accidents involving small private aircraft than large frequent carrier disasters, but they occur more regularly and are similarly deadly. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) establishes safety standards for airplanes, from manufacturing to operation, to prevent airplane crashes. It is the job of an aviation accident attorney to uphold these and similar laws that protect victims of airplane crashes and helicopter accidents, as well as their families.
It should be noted that an aviation accident may occur from the moment someone boards a plane until they disembark; the accident does not need to be flight-related. The causes of aviation accidents are varied and may be traced back to pilot error, mechanical error, weather, sabotage, or other human error relating to communications or actions taking place before boarding. All of these factors need to be considered when determining liability.
Causes of aviation accidents
The most common cause of an aviation accident is pilot error, accounting for more than half of the total aviation accidents. Negligence is another common cause, including neglect of Flight Service Station employees, negligence of the ATC (Air Traffic Control), negligence in maintenance and repairs, and negligence in a third party’s selection of a carrier. Other causes include faulty equipment, mechanical failure, manufacturing defects, flaws in structure or design, inability to fuel the aircraft, violations of FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) regulations, dangerous weather, and sabotage. In some cases, however, the cause of an aviation accident remains undetermined.
Liability in Plane Crashes
While some aviation accidents are unavoidable, others may be caused by someone’s carelessness or negligence. To read more about who may be responsible for an aviation accident, explore the links below.
Owner or Operator
The owner or operator of an aircraft is held to the highest standards of care and accountability for his or her passengers. If the cause of an aviation accident is determined to be the fault of the owner or operator, he or she can be held liable for any resulting damages or injury. The owner, under the legal theory of “vicarious liability,” may be held liable even if he or she was not directly involved with the accident.
Commercial airlines are classified as “common carriers” because they willingly transport any person who has purchased a ticket. The standards to which common carriers are held are both different and frequently more stringent than their private counterparts. In order to properly assess liability in a case involving a common carrier, an intimate knowledge of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) rules and regulations is absolutely necessary.
Common carriers are those that exist for the use of the general public. Commercial airlines are common carriers because they provide their services to all persons that purchase tickets. The FAA is responsible for the regulation of air carriers, and it holds common carriers to be different, often more rigorous standards than private carriers.
While most Aviation Accidents are, to some extent, the result of pilot error, other factors need to be considered. Due to the legal doctrine of “strict liability,” the manufacturer can be held liable if the presence of a defect can be proven to be the cause of damage or injury. Defects for which the manufacturer can be held liable can arise from three sources: defects in design, defects in manufacturing, and failure to provide a proper warning. It must be kept in mind that liability laws vary from state to state.
If you or a loved one was injured in a plane crash, fill out our free case review form. Our aviation accident attorneys can determine whether the plane’s manufacturer or other party is responsible for your injuries.
The manufacturer of a plane can be held accountable if the victim or their surviving family can prove that a defect in the aircraft or one of its parts caused the injury. In most aviation accident cases, both the pilot and plane manufacturer can be held accountable for a plane crash. These cases typically involve “comparative fault,” which is a legal term that refers to the decision the judge or jury must make in determining the percentage of liability assigned to each defendant. For instance, a pilot may be 30% responsible for losing control of a plane, but a manufacturer may be 70% liable for creating defective landing gear. A small number of states prohibit a plaintiff from recovering from a plane’s manufacturer if the pilot’s negligence factored into the crash. However, most jurisdictions use comparative fault and distribute liability among both defendants.
There are many cases when more than one party may be held liable for an aviation accident. In these instances, it is the responsibility of a judge or jury to assess the extent to which each defendant can be held liable. For example, it may be determined that the manufacturer is 70 percent responsible for an aviation accident but that further errors on the part of the pilot make up the remaining 30 percent. This is called “comparative fault” or “comparative liability” and is the means by which most states determine the distribution of blame.
Air Traffic Control (ATC), a function of the FAA, is responsible for the considerable job of controlling all the air traffic in the United States. Therefore, mid-air collisions and other navigation errors may be the fault of the ATC. If this is proven, the Government of the United States may be liable for injury or damage resulting from the Aviation Accident.
Answers to your Aviation Accident Question
Being involved in an aviation accident can be a traumatic experience. However, informing yourself about the aspects of aviation accident lawyer may help you better understand your options. Click the links below to learn about plane crash liability and common in-flight injuries.
The FAA, which is responsible for the regulation of air carriers, holds commercial airlines to quite rigorous standards of care for their passengers. While the complete safety of passengers cannot be guaranteed, negligence in any form is the responsibility of the airline. That is, while an injury is not proof of negligence or fault, airlines must make every reasonable effort to prevent injuries from occurring.
From the moment the plane is boarded until the passengers have disembarked, the airline may be liable for any injuries that occur; the aircraft does not need to be in the air at the time the injury occurs. In-flight injuries can vary considerably in their degree of seriousness; from twisted ankles to concussions, both minor and major injuries are possible. Turbulence is the leading cause of in-flight injury. Because of this, they are wearing one’s seatbelt is essential to safety. Failure to wear a seatbelt or to obey the directions of the crew may seriously undermine a claim against an airline. Furthermore, airlines may not be held liable for unforeseeable events, such as turbulence that was not possible to anticipate. Pilots are, however, responsible for checking the weather and for delaying or altering flights if weather conditions are not favorable.
The only reliable basis for a claim against an airline is human error. Airlines are required to ensure that the operation, inspection, repair, loading, and boarding of a plane are carried out correctly. Aisles should be clear, routes to exits and bathrooms should be safe, cabins should not be overloaded, and any equipment should be in safe and working condition. Failure in these and other areas may be grounds for a lawsuit.
The airline and its personnel may not be the only parties at fault for an in-flight injury. Malfunctions or errors may be partially or entirely the fault of the manufacturer, seller, or repairer of the aircraft or its equipment. Furthermore, Air Traffic Control (ATC) is responsible to alert the pilot if they become aware of a dangerous situation and may be liable for damages if they fail to do so.
The FAA or Federal Aviation Administration is the government body responsible for ensuring civil aviation safety; it is part of the Department of Transportation (DOT). The FAA issues and enforces civil aviation regulations as well as the minimum standards for aircraft manufacturing, operation, and maintenance. They are also responsible for the certification of airpersons and airports. While the FAA is separate from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), they often collaborate in their investigations of aviation accidents. It is important to note the FAA, along with the NTSB, simply investigate aviation accidents; they have no duty or responsibility toward the victims and their legal/financial interests.
The NTSB, or National Transportation Safety Board, is an independent federal agency that investigates significant transportation accidents. Consequently, the NTSB investigates all civil aviation accidents in the US. Based on its inquiries into the causes of accidents, the NTSB issues recommendations in order to prevent future accidents and make transportation safer; they also maintain the government’s database of civil aviation accidents. The NTSB has no power to enforce or regulate the aviation industry, only to offer recommendations. During their investigations, the NTSB does not and cannot establish liability; they simply attempt to determine the cause.
GARA is the acronym for the General Aviation Revitalization Act of 1994. It was designed to protect the makers of smaller, private aircraft from liability for accidents involving older airplanes and parts. GARA is a statute of repose, and consequently prevents claims against the manufacturer of an airplane (or constituent part) once the item has been in service for 18 years. There are instances when GARA does not apply, such as if the aircraft, at the time of the accident, was engaged in scheduled transportation of passengers or operation for air medical services.
The most common cause of an aviation accident is pilot error, accounting for more than half of the total aviation accidents. Negligence is another common cause, including negligence of Flight Service Station employees, negligence of the ATC (Air Traffic Control), negligence in maintenance and repairs, and negligence in a third party’s selection of a carrier. Other causes include faulty equipment, mechanical failure, manufacturing defects, flaws in structure or design, failure to fuel the aircraft, violations of FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) regulations, dangerous weather, and sabotage. In some cases, however, the cause of an aviation accident remains undetermined.
Federal and state governments have the right to impose criminal sanctions on those responsible for causing an aviation accident; these can be brought against commercial airlines or private owners/operators. The cause of these criminal sanctions is criminal negligence, that is, reckless conduct resulting in damage to property, serious injury, or death; the use of drugs or alcohol before flying are one example of criminal negligence. Mere accidents are not a basis for criminal sanctions. A criminal conviction may result in punitive damages and/or incarceration. The most basic levels of criminal charges that may be brought in an aviation accident are Criminal Negligence/Involuntary Manslaughter, Manslaughter, and Third Degree Murder.
The doctrine of strict liability means that in an aviation accident, the manufacturer may be held liable for injury or damages, even if there was no negligence or intent to commit an offense. Three things must be shown in order to establish strict liability:
- The product must have been defective at the time it left the manufacturer.
- The product must have been used properly and according to its intended function.
- The product must have, in some way, been responsible for the injury or damage resulting from the aviation accident.
Liability in aviation accidents is rarely straightforward. The operator of the aircraft may be liable if his or her error is directly responsible for the accident. The owner of the aircraft, due to “vicarious liability,” may also be held liable, regardless of his or her direct involvement with the accident. If defective parts are found to be the cause of injury or damage, the manufacturer may be liable.
The Government of the United States may be found liable if an accident is found to be the result of an error on the part of ATC (Air Traffic Control). Moreover, if multiple parties are involved with an aviation accident, it may be the duty of a judge or jury to determine the degree of responsibility. For example, it may be determined that the manufacturer is 70 percent responsible for an Aviation Accident but that further errors on the part of the pilot make up the remaining 30 percent. This is called “comparative fault” or “comparative liability” and is the means by which most states determine the distribution of blame.