Travel and Aviation Accidents
You were injured in a civil aviation accident while on vacation or a business trip. The airplane crash not only ruined the trip you spent a lot of time and money planning, but it left you even worse than before. You know that contacting commercial airlines or insurance companies directly probably won't get you enough compensation for what happened. You, your family members, and loved ones may have been aviation accident victims who suffered:
- Broken bones
- Traumatic brain injuries (TBI)
- Fatalities (including wrongful death claims)
While medical expenses continue to build up, where do you turn for your personal injury claim?
Flying is safer than driving, but that doesn't mean that aviation accident cases never happen. Unfortunately, because of the nature of air travel, when plane accidents do occur, serious injury or death usually results. Depending on the cause of the plane crash, a number of people and companies can be held liable for the injuries or deaths that occur. Some examples of causes of a crash include:
- Human error from air traffic controllers
- Crew member, flight attendant, or pilot error
- Mechanical failure due to a manufacturing defect
- Other air traffic control errors unrelated to uncontrollable weather conditions
In general aviation law, commercial airline companies are legally classified as common carriers. Common carriers 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 (duty of care) than private carriers in the event of an accident.
FindLaw's Travel and Aviation Accidents section provides information about aircraft 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
- The link between aviation accidents and product liability
Types of Travel Accidents and Compensation
Travel accidents are unique. They can, therefore, be very complicated. For example, you might be traveling internationally. If you're flying over international waters or landing in a foreign country, different laws may come into play. The airplane accident could involve maritime law, international law, and local state and federal law.
More confusingly, there may be multiple businesses or people involved. As mentioned, the accident may involve the pilot, flight crew, or air traffic controllers. But other parties may share responsibility for the accident.
For example, what if an airplane with a manufacturing defect crashed into a bus or ferry? Or what if the same tour company that bussed you to the airport also knowingly booked tickets with an airline or airport with a poor track record? In these situations, you might also sue:
- The airline and airplane manufacturer
- A ferry, tour bus, or booking company
- The airport where the accident occurred
When recovering against these parties, you'll ask the court for compensatory damages. That includes:
- Compensation for medical bills for treatment of your injuries
- Money for your pain and suffering, including emotional distress and disfigurement
- Funds to cover your lost income from work
Other damages may also be available. For example, certain laws (statutes) might provide set amounts of recovery to victims. Additionally, if a defendant acted egregiously and with the knowledge that people could get harmed, the court may award punitive damages.
For example, an airline might knowingly skimp out on making necessary but expensive repairs on an airplane with known mechanical issues. The airline left these issues unaddressed, and they contribute to a future accident. Here, the court might punish the airline for knowingly putting lives at risk.
Common Carrier Liability
Carriers offering 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. Meanwhile, the federal government's National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigates aviation accidents and safety violations.
Regardless of the regulations, common carriers are required to exercise the highest degree of care and diligence to ensure the safety of their passengers or cargo. Thus, a carrier can be sued for injuries that occur because:
- It didn't adhere to particular regulation(s)
- 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, and 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 to keep the passenger safe and unharmed.
- The breach was the cause of the plaintiff's injury, meaning 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
Under the legal theory of strict liability, a person or entity is held liable regardless of fault. This might be helpful to victims whose injuries were caused by manufacturers of defective airplane parts. But strict liability doesn't apply to common carriers. Instead, as with any negligence claim, a plaintiff must show that the carrier breached its duty of care to the plaintiff. In order to do so, a plaintiff must produce evidence of the breach.
There are various options for potential evidence. The more evidence a plaintiff can provide, the stronger the case. Potential evidence can include:
- Photographs or video
- Eyewitness or expert witness testimony
- Inspection records
Another source of potential evidence for a common carrier case is showing 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 they're 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 an Aviation Accident Attorney
Aviation litigation can be complex. It involves an understanding of personal injury law. It also requires an analysis of federal, state, and sometimes international law. If you, your family members, or loved ones have been injured or died in an aviation accident, an airplane accident attorney can help.
An aviation accident lawyer is a type of injury lawyer with experience in commercial aircraft accidents. Whether your personal injury case involves a helicopter crash or an airplane accident, they'll be able to discuss your legal options. Contact a personal injury attorney if you've been injured in any other type of travel accident. A personal injury lawyer can determine whether you may have a legal claim for damages.
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