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Aviation Accidents - FAQ

When people choose to travel by plane, they place an enormous amount of trust in all of the people who work to make those flights happen. 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.

If you have seen aviation accidents in the media or have experienced one yourself, you may have some questions about who is responsible for those incidents when they happen. In this FindLaw article, you can learn answers to common questions regarding liability for aviation accidents.

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

A: 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 when circumstances of the accident indicate that an engineering or mechanical failure may be to blame.

Q: Can the owner/operator be held liable for an aviation accident?

A: Both the federal government and individual states can impose criminal and/or civil sanctions in cases involving aviation accidents. Although the classifications and details may vary among them, most states impose criminal sanctions on aviators for reckless conduct that leads to injury, death, or property damage. The difficulty in prosecuting these cases lies in 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 suit.

Q: What is the "statute of repose" in an aviation accident case?

A: In the context of aviation litigation, a "statute of repose" limits the time a lawsuit may be filed with regard to how long an airplane or part has been in service. The applicable time period varies depending on where the suit is filed (state, federal, or international court).

A statute of repose is similar to a statute of limitations in that they both establish deadlines for bringing forth legal action after an accident. However, the statutes differ in that they may start at different times relative to the incident, they may establish different time limits, and a statue of repose does not allow for exceptions to the set deadlines.

Q: What is the FAA?

A: The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is the element of the U.S. government that is 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 that its aviation regulations are met.

Q: What is the NTSB?

A: The National Transportation Safety Board ("NTSB") is an independent federal agency charged with investigating every civil aviation accident in the United States. Its jurisdiction also includes trains and other vehicle accidents. The NTSB issues safety recommendations aimed at preventing future accidents, maintains the government's database on civil aviation accidents, and conducts special studies of transportation safety issues of national significance.

Q: What is GARA?

A: GARA, the General Aviation Revitalization Act of 1994, 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 and/or parts. GARA bars lawsuits against the manufacturer of an aircraft or component part once that item is 18 years old or older at the time of the accident, even if manufacturer negligence caused the accident. GARA does not apply if the aircraft was engaged in scheduled carrying of passengers, or air medical services operations at the time of the accident.

Q: What are the most common causes of aircraft accidents?

A: 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.
  • Third party's carrier selection negligence.
  • Maintenance or repair of the aircraft or component negligence.
  • Negligence in fueling the aircraft.

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

A: Yes. General aviation law applies to all civilian aircraft regardless of whether they are commercial or private. Military aircraft, however, are subject to their own legal standards.

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

A: Yes. Aviation accidents often result in severe injuries that leave victims with expensive medical bills and a long recovery process. To receive compensation for an aviation injury, it may be in your best interests to file a lawsuit against the carrier responsible.

Have Specific Questions About Aviation Accidents? Talk to a Lawyer

Aviation accidents involve unique issues having to do with jurisdiction, and frequently involve catastrophic injury or death. For these reasons it's wise to consult with an experienced lawyer. Contact a local personal injury attorney to discuss how they can help you get compensated.

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