Traveling by plane has become increasingly popular over the years. However, as air traffic increases, so does the risk of being involved in an aviation-related accident. Although traveling by air is considered one of the safest means of transportation, when aviation accidents do occur, they oftentimes involve very serious and/or fatal injuries.
In the unfortunate event of an aviation accident, you or a loved one may be eligible to file a personal injury or wrongful death claim, and seek compensation for the damages suffered. In most cases, the following are common categories of compensable damages in a personal injury or wrongful death claim arising from an aviation-related accident:
- Past and future medical expenses;
- Lost wages and lost earning capacity;
- Past and future pain and suffering;
- Emotional distress;
- Loss of consortium;
- Loss of financial support;
- Funeral expenses; and
- Punitive damages
In the United States, two federal agencies regulate air travel and investigate every accident (commercial or private): The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and the Federal Aviation Administration. The FAA sets safety standards for pilot conduct, flight operations, and aircraft manufactures, and the NTSB is responsible for investigating and reporting on aviation accidents and incidents.
The NTSB’s statistics show that general aviation aircrafts average roughly seven accidents per 100,000 flight hours, compared to an average of 0.16 accidents per 100,000 hours for commercial aircrafts. General aviation includes all non-commercial aircrafts such as small planes, large business jets, charter flights, pleasure crafts, helicopters, and hang gliders.
Although it may take years to fully investigate the cause of an aviation-related accident, some of the accidents reported were attributed to the following:
- Mechanical defects;
- Pilot error;
- Poor runway maintenance;
- Design defects;
- Negligence of Flight Service Station employees;
- Negligence of Federal Air Traffic Controllers; or
- Adverse weather
When we think of aviation accidents, we consider the most extreme and fatal incidents. However, there are many non-fatal aviation-related accidents that can result in severe injuries. Some injuries may result from unsecure terminals, falling luggage, improperly-secured food carts sliding into aisles, and trip and falls due to ripped carpet or other objects in the aisles. When these injuries occur, airlines can be held legally responsible for their employee’s failure to act with due care.
Should you consider pursuing a personal injury or wrongful death claim in an aviation-related accident, there may be several parties liable. Liability for damages may range from the owner and/or operator of an aircraft, manufacturers, and even the federal government. The United States is often sued under the Federal Tort Claims Act for alleged negligence of its air traffic control operators. Air traffic control is primarily responsible for the safe, orderly and rapid movement of aircraft within the control zone. As such, air traffic control involves the proper sequencing and spacing of aircraft, providing of weather, navigational and flight information, advice and instructions by the air traffic control specialists. As many courts have states in these aviation-related tort cases, once the federal government undertakes to provide services otherwise not required of it, those services must be performed in the exercise of due care. Thus, the Government may be subject to liability for injuries that are proximately caused by the lack of such care.
In some cases, however, the Government has been held to not be liable for asserted negligence of its air traffic control personnel. These cases typically arise out of mid-air collisions between aircraft. These types of catastrophes involve an airliner and a light airplane, a collision between two light (general aviation) aircraft, and a collision between a general aviation airplane and a military aircraft.
Aviation-related accidents are complex cases to litigate and often involve several theories of liability under state, federal, and sometimes international law. While each case is different and involve varying circumstances, most accidents are controlled by theories of negligence, product liability, or some combination of the two. Negligence is basically a legal term used when a person’s actions, or inactions, fall below the reasonable standard of care as others under similar circumstance in order to protect others from foreseeable risks of harm. In this case, pilots, airline employees, and airline maintenance or manufacturers may be subject to negligence claims when an aviation-related accident occurs.
Similarly, product liability claims arise in this context if a manufacturer or seller is negligent in the design or manufacturing of a product (the aircraft or component part); in other words, the product is defective. If it can be proved that the defective product contributed to the aviation accident, then product liability may allow an injured party to recovery against the manufacturer or seller of the defective product.
There are numerous issues that can impact the outcome of a personal injury or wrongful death claim arising out of an aviation-related accident. The experienced attorneys at Rosensteel Fleishman, PLLC understand how difficult these claims are for loved ones and will spare no resources to get you the best outcome available. Contact us today, the initial consultation is free of charge.