Travel and Aviation Accidents
Created by FindLaw's team of legal writers and editors | Last reviewed June 20, 2016
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Flying is generally considered safer that driving, but that doesn't mean that aviation accidents never happen. Unfortunately, because of the nature of air travel, when a plane accident does occur, it usually results in serious bodily injury or death. Depending on the cause of the aviation accident, a number of people and companies can be held liable for the injuries or deaths that occur. Commercial airline companies are legally classified as "common carriers" because they provide transportation services to the general public. Cruise ships and tour buses are additional examples of common carriers. Common carriers are held to a more stringent standard of care than private carriers in the event of an accident. FindLaw's Travel and Aviation Accidents section provides information about aviation accidents, tour bus liability, and cruise ship claims.
You can also find articles on how the law treats common carriers, frequently asked questions regarding aviation accidents, and the link between aviation accidents and product liability.
Liability of Common Carriers
Carriers that offer their services to the public are governed by the authority of a regulatory body. These regulatory bodies set standards for safety and other passenger concerns. For example, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is the regulatory governing body for commercial airlines. Regardless of the regulations, common carriers are required to exercise the highest degree of care and diligence in the safety of their passengers and/or cargo. Thus, a carrier can be sued for injuries that occur because it didn't adhere to particular regulation(s) or because it failed to exercise the care and diligence expected of a reasonably careful operator.
In order to prove a carrier's fault in a negligence case, a plaintiff must prove the elements of negligence. The elements of a basic negligence case are: duty, breach, causation, damages. Here is a breakdown of the elements when it comes to carrier cases:
- The common carrier (defendant) owed the passenger (plaintiff) a duty, which for common carriers, is the highest standard of care and diligence.
- The defendant breached its duty.
- The breach was the cause of the plaintiff's injury, meaning that the injury would not have occurred if the defendant had not breached its duty.
- The plaintiff suffered damages, which are usually physical but can also include emotional distress or loss of wages.
Evidence in Common Carrier Lawsuits
The legal theory of strict liability - where a person or entity is held liable regardless of fault - doesn't apply to common carriers. Instead, as with any negligence claim, a plaintiff must show that the carrier breached its duty to the plaintiff. In order to do so, a plaintiff must produce evidence of the breach.
There are various options for potential evidence, and the more evidence a plaintiff can provide, the stronger his or her case. Potential evidence can include photographs or video, eyewitness or expert witness testimony, and/or inspection records. Another example of potential evidence for a common carrier case is providing a particular regulation that the carrier didn't follow, which resulted in injury. This type of situation is referred to as "negligence per se." Of course, the evidence that a plaintiff can provide will depend on what is available and the type of claim that he or she is making. For example, if a person fell down a steep flight of stairs on a cruise ship, photos of the staircase would potentially be helpful.
Hiring a Lawyer
Aviation litigation can be complex and involves an understanding and analysis of federal, state, and sometimes international law. If you or someone you love has been injured or died in an aviation accident, you may want to contact a local attorney who specializes in aviation accidents to discuss your legal options. You may want to contact a personal injury attorney if you've been injured in any other type of travel accident as well because you may have a legal claim for damages.
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