Answers To The Most Frequently Asked Questions In Airplane Accident Cases
1. Who is entitled to bring a lawsuit based on injuries or deaths stemming from airplane accidents?
Any passenger who is injured in an airplane accident, or the heirs of any passenger who is killed, are entitled to bring a lawsuit.
2. Do commercial airlines or companies that charge passengers to fly on their airplanes or helicopters owe a special duty of care to passengers?
Absolutely. Commercial airlines and companies that charge people to fly in their planes or helicopters are considered "common carriers" and owe passengers the highest duty of care under the law to make sure that their travel is safe.
3. Does an airplane have to crash for the airline to be found responsible for injuries?
No. Many serious injuries occur to passengers without an airplane crashing. For instance, injuries can be caused by severe turbulence, the negligent acts of flight attendants and can even occur before take-off or after landing. The airline maintains the duty of utmost care for the safety of its passengers.
4. Who can be held liable for airplane accidents?
There is a long list of potential defendants in any serious airplane accident case. They include pilots, owners and lessors of the airplane, employer of the pilot, manufacturers and suppliers of the airplane and component parts of the airplane, chart publishers, repairers, air traffic controllers, and the Federal Aviation Administration.
5. Are there any limitations on aviation accidents involving international flights?
Yes. Unless a passenger or the survivors of the passenger can prove that injury or death was caused by a commercial airline carrier's willful misconduct, damages on any international flight are limited to $75,000. This limitation applies only to the airline and not to manufacturers or suppliers of the aircraft or other potential defendants. Further, a passenger cannot recover for a strictly psychological injury.
6. The importance of a thorough investigation in an airplane accident case.
It is critical that the plaintiff's attorney does everything that he or she can to thoroughly investigate an airplane accident case. Governmental agencies will perform their own investigation, and attorneys should obtain these reports. However, it is also important to actually inspect what is left of the airplane and other evidence that is available after an airplane crash. The investigation may lead to a theory of recovery against entities other than the pilot or owner of the airplane.
7. How can I prove that the airline or the pilot of the airplane was at fault when there are no surviving witnesses to the crash?
Plaintiffs are aided by a legal doctrine known as "res ipsa loquitor" which holds that there will be a presumption of negligence on the part of the airline or pilot if the plaintiff can establish that the accident is of a kind that ordinarily does not occur absent someone's negligence; the accident was caused by an agency or instrumentality within the defendant's exclusive control; and, the accident was not due to any voluntary action or contribution of the plaintiff. Almost every airplane crash fits this description; thus, proof in the case shifts to the defendant to prove that it acted reasonably.
8. What damages are recoverable in aviation accident cases?
Except for international flights, the plaintiff who is still alive is entitled to recover damages for past and future medical expenses, past and future wage loss, past and future pain and suffering, and if it is deemed that conduct is bad enough, punitive damages (i.e., punishment damages against the defendant). If the passenger on the airplane dies, his or her survivors are entitled to recover full compensation for their economic losses that result from the passenger's death as well as emotional distress damages which stem from the loss of society care and comfort of the decedent. If the survivors can prove that the plaintiff lived for a period of time between the negligent act and death, they can also bring an action for punitive damages.
9. What is the time period in which an aviation accident case must be brought?
Generally speaking, a lawsuit must be brought within two years of the date of the accident. However, in rare circumstances that time period can be extended if there is a "delayed discovery" of an injury. If the accident results in a wrongful death, the case must be brought within one year of the date of death, and if the plaintiffs choose to bring a "survival" action, the case must be brought within six months of the date of death. If the case is against a federal entity, plaintiffs have two years from the date of the accident to file a federal tort claim. If a state government is involved, plaintiffs have 6 months to bring a claim.
10. Do I need an attorney to bring an aviation case?
Almost always. In major airline crash cases, the airlines will often attempt to settle with the survivors before they retain attorneys. Experience dictates that the offers from the airlines are generally low. Most plaintiffs do much better retaining attorneys.
Aviation litigation is very complex and there usually needs to be an investigation to ascertain fault. This will require a skilled attorney.
Even in cases involving international flights with a $75,000 damage cap for injuries or death arising out of the negligence of an airline, an attorney may be able to establish willful misconduct or establish liability against wrongdoers other than the airline and help you recover damages greater than $75,000.
11. Will my aviation case settle?
Probably. Ninety to 95% of aviation cases settle at some point before trial.
Most legal questions require complex answers. The answers provided here may not be complete or fully accurate but attempt to provide consumers with abbreviated answers. For more detailed answers to these questions, a consumer should check out other articles in this section of this website, research other legal articles and texts on the subject matter or consult with an attorney.