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Aviation Accidents - FAQ

When people choose to travel by plane, they place an enormous amount of trust in the aviation industry. That includes commercial airlines, air traffic controllers, and everyone supporting this mode of transportation. Most of the time, plane trips go off without any problems. Sometimes, however, issues arise, and those issues can have serious consequences for everyone involved. Personal injury cases involving plane crash or airplane accidents can involve:

  • Severe emotional distress
  • Spine and brain injuries
  • Other serious injuries affecting the body
  • Fatalities (including wrongful death lawsuits)

If you have seen aviation accidents in the media or experienced an airplane crash yourself, you may have some questions about who is responsible for the injury claims of accident victims. In this FindLaw article, you can learn answers to frequently asked questions (FAQ) regarding liability for plane accidents. These questions include:

Who can be held responsible to the injured parties in an aviation accident?

Potentially liable parties vary, depending on the cause of the accident. The owner and operator of the aircraft certainly may be liable if the cause can be traced to human error. Manufacturers or maintenance suppliers may be liable under product liability laws. This can occur when the circumstances of the accident indicate that an engineering or mechanical failure may be to blame.

What should I do first if I was hurt on an airplane?

Seeking medical treatment should be your first priority. While no one likes to rack up medical expenses, your health should come first. Moreover, seeking professional care means your serious injuries will be adequately documented. Keeping a paper trail of your injuries will help you obtain proper compensation down the line. After you speak with your doctor, the next step should be to contact a lawyer. More on that below.

Should I formally report an injury to the airline?

Yes, but not by yourself. A doctor should professionally evaluate your injuries. A legal professional should then review your medical records and compile them into a report. Because airlines have insurance companies, a formal report of your injuries is an important, necessary, and highly sensitive step. The insurance companies will do everything they can to deny your claim or attack the accuracy of your medical report. You create a solid record when you accurately and timely report your injuries to the airline through a legal professional. This later helps you recover compensation, especially if you're forced to sue.

What should I do if I was hurt at the airport?

If you were injured inside an airport, call 911 or seek emergency assistance as soon as possible. If you're unable to move or speak, try to signal bystanders who might be able to reach out to the authorities for you. After you've sought emergency care, you're ready to start documenting your premises liability case. Premises liability is an area of the law that deals with dangerous conditions on property. If hazards in an airport cause injury to your person, you may be able to recover against the airport. If possible, try to take photos, video, and notes of the scene of the accident. Take down witness information and be prepared to document your path to recovery.

What are my legal options if I get injured on an international flight abroad?

When you're no longer in the United States, your injuries may be subject to foreign laws. If your injury damages are within certain limits, you may be able to file a claim for air disaster compensation under the Montreal Convention. This is an international treaty, or formal agreement, between most United Nations member countries. It helps airline passengers recover for their injuries through a streamlined process.

Can the owner or operator be held liable for an aviation accident?

Airlines are considered common carriers because they transport people. The law imposes a stringent duty of care on common carriers to ensure their passengers' safety. Both the federal government and individual states can impose criminal or civil sanctions in cases involving aviation accidents.

Most states impose criminal sanctions for reckless conduct leading to injury, death, or property damage. Difficulties prosecuting these cases lie in difficulties differentiating between cases of criminal negligence and mere accidents. Alternatively, a civil lawsuit arising from an aviation accident may take the form of a wrongful death lawsuit.

What is the 'statute of repose' in an aviation accident case?

In the context of aviation litigation, a statute of repose limits the time a lawsuit may be filed regarding the amount of time that an airplane or part has been in service. The applicable period varies, depending on where you file your lawsuit. Options include state, federal, or international courts.

A statute of repose is similar to a statute of limitations. They both establish deadlines for bringing forth legal action after an accident. However, the statutes differ since:

  • They may start at different times relative to the incident
  • They may establish different time limits
  • A statute of repose does not allow for exceptions to the set deadlines

What is GARA?

The General Aviation Revitalization Act of 1994 (GARA) is a statute of repose. GARA was designed to protect manufacturers of smaller, private aircraft (less than 20 seats) from liability for accidents involving older airplanes or parts. GARA bars lawsuits against the aircraft manufacturer or component part manufacturer once that item is 18 years old or older at the time of the accident. This holds true even if manufacturer negligence caused the accident. GARA does not apply if the aircraft was engaged in:

  • The scheduled carrying of passengers
  • Air medical services operations at the time of the accident

What is the FAA?

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is a regulatory body of the U.S. government primarily responsible for the safety of civil aviation. The FAA is separate from, and independent of, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). In addition to establishing and reviewing regulations, the FAA has an enforcement division that works to ensure compliance.

What is the NTSB?

The National Transportation Safety Board is an independent federal agency responsible for investigating every civil aviation accident in the U.S. Its jurisdiction (legal authority) also includes trains, buses, and other vehicle accidents. The NTSB also:

  • Issues safety recommendations aimed at preventing future accidents
  • Maintains the government's database on civil aviation accidents
  • Conducts special studies of transportation safety issues of national significance

What are the most common causes of aircraft accidents?

The most common causes of aircraft accidents include:

  • Pilot errors, including disregard for unsafe weather conditions
  • Faulty equipment or flying with missing equipment
  • Violation of FAA regulations
  • Structural or design problems with an aircraft
  • Flight service station employee negligence
  • Federal air traffic controllers' negligence or air traffic controller error
  • Third-party carrier selection negligence
  • Maintenance or repair of the aircraft or component negligence
  • Negligence in fueling the aircraft

Do the same laws apply to commercial aircraft and private aircraft?

Yes. General aviation law applies to all civilian aircraft, regardless of whether they are commercial or private. As mentioned earlier, however, keep in mind that airlines are common carriers and, therefore, must meet the highest duty of care. This is in contrast to a private pilot's duty to behave reasonably under the circumstances. Military aircraft are subject to their own legal standards under military law.

Should I seek legal help for an injury related to an aviation accident?

Yes. Aviation accidents often result in severe injuries that leave victims and their loved ones with expensive medical bills. There can also be a long recovery process. Aviation accident lawyers may ask you to fill out some type of airplane injury intake form. To receive compensation for an aviation injury, it may be in your best interests to file a lawsuit against the carrier responsible. Since personal injury law can be complicated, you might want to find an aviation accident attorney with years of experience.

Have Specific Questions About Aviation Accidents? Talk to an Aviation Attorney

Aviation accidents involve unique issues having to do with jurisdiction (legal authority). They also involve catastrophic injuries and even death. Like in car accidents, dealing with insurance companies is best handled by qualified personal injury lawyers.

For these reasons, it's wise to consult with an experienced lawyer to help you obtain a favorable verdict after an aviation crash. Call the toll-free phone number of a local personal injury attorney to discuss how they can help you or your family members get compensation.

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