Have you been injured or lost a loved one in an airplane accident? You may be entitled to monetary compensation. Get a free, no-obligation legal consultation with one of our Airplane Accident Lawyers. Call (480) 361-2442.
Airplane crashes are rare. When they do happen, the results are usually deadly for passengers, crew and bystanders on the ground. Hundreds of lives can be lost in an aircraft accident. An experienced and knowledgeable airplane accident lawyer can assist victims and their families in recovering the compensation they deserve from those who were responsible.
Plane accidents are devastating for survivors, including surviving passengers and the family members of plane crash victims. It is a time of intense shock and grief. Survivors want to know what happened, why it happened and who was responsible. It is important to take time to process the emotional and physical effects of the accident.
For major airline accidents, the Transportation Disaster Assistance Division (TDA) of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is available to help aviation disaster victims and their families. The TDA coordinates federal, state, local and volunteer disaster response resources. A Family Assistance Center is established to assist survivors, family and friends. The TDA helps provide information and disaster crisis counseling services.
The TDA does not have any legal requirements to respond to aviation accidents that do not involve major airlines. However, survivors and family can contact the TDA to obtain information and referrals to resources such as the American Red Cross. The Red Cross offers no-cost disaster crisis counseling and resources to family members and survivors.
Airplane Crash Causes
Aviation accidents and injuries can result from one or more of the following causes:
- Pilot error
- Mechanical failure
- Engine failure
- Instrument failure
- Electrical failure
- Fuel tank explosion
- Corporate airline negligence
- Crew negligence
- Runway defects
- Improper maintenance
- Defective or malfunctioning equipment
- Violation of Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations
- Structural or design problems
- Dangerous weather conditions
- Severe turbulence
- Runway collisions
- Flight instructor effort
- Federal Air Traffic Controller error
- Negligence in a third-party’s selection of a carrier
- Other reasons
Who is Responsible for the Airplane Accident?
Injured passengers may have claims against the airline, the manufacturer of the airplane, manufacturers of airplane parts, and companies responsible for fueling, repairing and maintaining the airplane.
Claims against Airlines
As a common carrier, an airline has a special relationship with its passengers. The airline has duty to proactively guard the safety of its passengers. This includes protecting passengers from risks created not only by the airline but also by third parties.
Commercial airlines are obligated to properly maintain their aircraft and to ensure that their planes have all required safety systems and equipment in good working condition. Commercial airline pilots must possess a commercial pilot’s license. Commercial airplanes must undergo a continuous inspection program approved by the Federal Aviation Administration.
The airline is responsible for the actions of its employees. If the airline’s pilots, flight crew, baggage crew, mechanics, safety personnel, supervisors or other employees were negligent, the airline and its insurers will be legally responsible for their negligence.
Claims against Manufacturers
If the airplane or a component was defective and contributed to the accident, injured victims can sue the manufacturers and distributors of the defective part. This includes manufacturers of aircraft instructions, systems and equipment.
Claims against product manufacturers are made under the legal doctrine of “strict product liability”. These claims do not require proof of negligence. The manufacturer of the product is responsible if the product is defective and unreasonably dangerous. A product is can be defective and unreasonably dangerous if there was a defect in its design, a defect in the manufacturing process or if the manufacturer fails to provide proper warnings or instructions for the product.
In 1994, the U.S. Congress passed the General Aviation Revitalization Act. This law protects manufacturers of non-commercial aircraft against lawsuits for defects that are more than 18 years old. There are some exceptions to this law and, if the law does apply, then there may be other responsible parties from which injured victims can collect compensation.
Claims against Others
Other parties whose negligence may cause an airplane crash include:
- Companies that maintained the aircraft and its components
- Air traffic controllers
- FAA weather service
- Owner of the airport
- Airport maintenance contractors
Compensation for Damages in Airplane Accidents
Injured persons may be entitled to recovery of medical expenses, lost wages, lost earnings capacity, pain and suffering and emotional distress. In some cases, punitive damages may be available.
If an airplane crashed into someone’s property, the property owner may have a claim for the property damage. For example, if a plane lands on a house and demolishes the residence, the homeowner may have a claim for the a value of his home.
If you have lost a parent, spouse or child an airplane crash, you may be entitled to wrongful death damages. This include:
- Loss of love, affection, companionship, care, protection and guidance (since death and future)
- Pain, grief, sorrow, anguish, stress, shock, mental suffering (since death and future)
- Income and services lost (since death and future)
- Funeral and burial expenses
- Medical expenses before death
- Potential punitive damages
Montreal Convention Limits Damages for International Flights
International flights that have a point of departure or a stop in the United States are governed under the Montreal Convention. The Montreal Convention, also known as the Montreal Agreement, is a multi-national treaty that replaced the Warsaw Convention.
Under the Montreal Convention, airlines are absolutely liable to passengers if they sustain injuries or lose baggage on an international flight. There is no need to prove any negligence. However, the amount of damages that victims can recover for injuries is limited to $75,000 unless they can prove willful misconduct on the part of the airline. Although major airlines signed subsequent agreements under which damages would be based on Special Drawing Rights (an international monetary standard) and could exceed $75,000 (about $146,000, but this amount changes over time), those airlines have taken the legal position that they did not implement the new agreements and that damages on international flights are therefore limited to $75,000 under the Montreal Agreement.
The Montreal Convention does not apply to claims against parties other than the airlines. So, if a manufacturer made a defective product that contributed to the accident, the Montreal Convention would not limit the claims that could be made against the company.
Investigation by Experienced Airplane Accident Lawyers
After a plane crash, the families of the victims want to know what happened. Sometimes the answers can be hard to find.
Airplanes are complicated machines with intricate electrical, hydraulic, pneumatic, power and flight control systems. A wide variety of parties are involved in the air travel process, including the plane’s crew, maintenance personnel, manufacturing companies, the owners of the airplane and air traffic control. Various federal and state laws and regulations can apply. Answering the questions of what happened, who was responsible and how the matter should be resolved can be very complicated and expensive.
After an aircraft crash, the owners of the aircraft and their insurers will normally have a team of top-notch professionals working to protect their interests, including investigators, engineers and attorneys. This is especially the case in commercial airplane accidents. Large airlines are multi-billion dollars companies who can afford to spend millions of dollars to try to avoid responsibility for accidents. It is in their interest to try to show that someone else was responsible for the crash so that they can minimize negative publicity, avoid governmental fines, minimize the impact on their business and minimize the settlements to injured persons and their families.
To make sure you rights are protected, it is important to get an experienced airplane crash attorney working for you as soon as possible after the accident. You want to hire a legal team that understands aviation laws and how to successfully handle airplane crash lawsuits. A plane accident lawyer can help you even the playing field against the large airline. While the airline’s goal is to minimize liability and the amounts it pays to victims, it is our job – and goal – to maximize your compensation.
FAA and NTSB
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is an independent United States agency responsible for transportation accident investigations, including airplane crashes. Every year, the NTSB investigates about 2,000 aviation accidents ranging from private two-seater planes to commercial jumbo jets.
After a crash, the NTSB will immediately send a “Go Team” to the scene of the accident to investigate what happened. This is a team of specialists to the site to investigate the accident. This investigation typically takes 12 to 18 months and a proposed report is submitted to a Safety Board. Ultimately, the NTSB issues a Final Aircraft Accident Report. This final report contains a probable cause determination about how the accident happened and safety recommendations to help avoid similar accidents in the future. The NTSB does not have any authority to implement its proposed safety recommendations.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) creates and enforces aviation regulations. It is an agency of the United States Department of Transportation. The FAA compiles reports and statistics about aviation accidents. It promotes aviation safety, and it issues, suspends and revokes pilot licenses.
After an airplane crash, the FAA may issue post-crash Airworthiness Directives to require changes to an aircraft or its component parts. These regulations may be based on the findings and safety recommendations of the NTSB. The FAA may also take disciplinary action against pilots, crew and airlines. An airline that is found to have violated FAA regulations can be fined millions of dollars for its actions.
The NTSB final report can be obtained under the Freedom of Information Act. However, federal law strictly prohibits the introduction of this report as evidence in civil jury trial. Similarly, post-crash enforcement action by the FAA might be inadmissible. So, while the actions of the NTSB and FAA are certainly helpful to uncover evidence and promote safety, they are not enough to rely on to win an airplane crash lawsuit.
An experienced and knowledgeable plane crash lawyer will know how to obtain the evidence that is needed to seek compensation for the families that have lost loved ones. Quick action may have to be taken to preserve important evidence for your airplane accident lawsuit. In addition to reviewing the accident report prepared by the NTSB, we may hire professional experts to analyze the reason for the accident. Documents are gathered, witnesses are interviewed, etc. A thorough preparation of your case maximizes the chances of obtaining the best results for you.
Contact an Experienced Airplane Accident Lawyer
Recovering from the emotional and physical effects of an airplane accident is difficult and can take a long time. You need a strong, experienced airplane accident lawyer to fight for your rights to obtain the financial compensation you deserve. We focus on your legal recovery while you focus on your emotional and physical recovery.
Contact us for a free, no-obligation consultation about your legal rights. Call (480) 361-2442 or fill out our contact form.