The attorneys at Rapoport Weisberg & Sims P.C. have been representing aircraft disaster victims, crew members and their families throughout the United States for over three decades. Our cases have involved all types of aircraft, including commercial, corporate and recreational airplanes. We have a remarkable record of accomplishment in aviation accident cases and have obtained record-setting compensation for our clients.
Central to our success is our attorneys’ in-depth knowledge regarding aviation accidents. Our firm has repeatedly served in leadership roles in aviation litigation and our track record of trial success demonstrates our experience. In addition to actively pursuing claims on behalf of our aviation clients, we also publish in peer-reviewed journals regarding aviation safety and serve in leadership positions in the aviation legal field.
Many aviation accidents can be prevented through strong safety regulations, comprehensive pilot training, and dedicated aircraft maintenance. However, these safeguards are sometimes lacking and the results can be aviation accidents. If you were injured or lost a loved one in an aviation accident, a compassionate aviation accident lawyer from Rapoport Weisberg & Sims P.C. can help you navigate the claims process and help you seek the accountability and justice you deserve. Contact us today for a free case review where we can discuss your legal options.
Types of Aviation Accidents
There are many different types of aircraft and, therefore, many kinds of possible aviation accidents, including:
International Flight Accidents
International accidents can be complex because they may involve laws from foreign jurisdictions, multiple claimants, and complex factors. The Montreal Convention or other international treaties may be involved. An experienced lawyer can help you navigate this terrain.
In 1999, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) met in Montreal, Quebec and adopted a new international treaty named the Convention for the Unification of Certain Rules for International Carriage by Air. The multilateral treaty has become known more commonly as the Montreal Convention and through its international ratification has been adopted by most UN member states.
The Montreal Convention governs the liability for air carriers in cases of injury or death of passengers during international flights. The United States ratified the convention in 2003. Currently, there are 139 parties to the Convention.
Originally written in French, the Montreal Convention has been interpreted in various languages and legal systems, including English, Arabic, Chinese, Russian, and Spanish.
Under Article 17 of the Montreal Convention, an air carrier can be subject to strict liability for injuries resulting from an “accident.” The definition of an accident is not set forth in the Convention, but US courts have interpreted it to mean an injury “caused by an unusual or unexpected event or happening that is external to the passenger.”
Under Article 17(1), an air carrier can be strictly liable for an injury up to 128,821 Special Drawing Rights (referred to as “SDRs”), approximately $175,000. Above that limit, an air carrier remains strictly liable for all damage sustained, without limit, unless the air carrier can prove either that “such damage was not due to the negligence or other wrongful act or omission of the carrier or its servants or agents,” or that “such damage was solely due to the negligence or other wrongful act or omission of a third party.” If the air carrier can prove it was without fault, then the 128,821 SDR limit will apply. It is the air carrier’s burden to prove it was free of negligence or other wrongful acts or omissions. This burden-shifting is the opposite of most personal injury claims in the United States, where the injured person typically bears the burden of proof.
Article 33 of the Convention provides that a plaintiff may choose to bring an action either: (1) where the carrier is domiciled; (2) where the carrier has its principal place of business; (3) “the place of business through which the contract has been made”; (4) the place of destination; or (5) where “the passenger has his principal and permanent residence.” Not all venues are created equal and selecting the most advantage location for a passenger to make a claim requires experience and expertise. Selecting the correct venue is important because it can significantly affect how a court chooses to substantive damages law, which can meaningfully impact the amount recoverable in an accident.
While commercial aviation crashes are thankfully rare events, the majority of commercial aviation incidents since 2010 have involved international flights, most governed by the Convention. Having experienced aviation lawyers can ensure a proper application of the Convention to ensure a passenger or their family maximizes the amount recoverable in an accident.
Domestic Flight Accidents
Commercial accidents that occur domestically often involve multiple defendants. Conduct of pilots, air traffic control, airplane manufacturers, and equipment malfunctions can each play a role, or even combine to cause an accidnent. When a domestic crash occurs,, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) usually leads the investigation, although, numerous other agencies may be involved. State, federal, and international laws may also be involved, making the cases even more complex.
Passengers may also be injured during a flight for reasons such as:
- Overhead bin malfunctions
- Beverage cart crashes
- Slips and falls
What legal regime applies and what rights a passenger may often depend on an analysis of the facts of the case.
Private Plane Crashes
Aircraft that hold fewer than 30 passengers are more likely to crash than large, domestic craft. The rules pertaining to these aircraft are less stringent than those involving large aircraft, which is why many more accidents involve these types of aircraft. Additionally, these aircraft lack safeguards provided in larger craft, such as a second engine, backup navigation system, or co-pilot.
Air Ambulance Crashes
In many parts of the country, serious accident victims or critically ill patients will require transport by a Helicopter Air Ambulance (HAA). According to the Federal Aviation Administration, the challenging nature of HAA operations raises a number of relatively unique human factors issues. Such operational conditions can elevate mental and physical fatigue, stress, and human error, and make flightcrew communication and decision-making difficult. Special considerations of human factors and safety culture are needed to combat any perceived pressure on pilots to perform these operations given the critical medical condition of onboard patients.
Helicopter Tour Accidents
Helicopter tours are a popular recreational activity. However, helicopter tour operators may hire pilots who may not have the unique skill set and training to navigate difficult terrain.
Charter Helicopter Accidents
Other helicopter accidents occur on chartered flights. Helicopters are more vulnerable to wind and bad weather. They are also a more difficult craft to maneuver. They also have reduced visibility at night. These factors can make this type of aircraft more likely to be involved in a serious accident.
Common Causes of Airplane Crashes and Aviation Accidents
Some of the most common causes of airplane crashes and aviation accidents include:
A report by the Federal Aviation Administration says that pilot error is responsible for 60-80% of aviation accidents. Pilots are subject to strict regulations regarding important factors involved in flying, including the Sterile Cockpit Rule, mandatory preflight inspections, safe operation of the aircraft, flying hours, and landing procedures. Nonetheless, there are still aviation accidents that occur because of pilot error, such as:
- Poor take-off or landing
- Excessive landing speed
- Premature descent
- Missed runways
- Navigational mistakes
In some aviation accidents, the fault rests on the carrier. Airlines often try to transport passengers as expeditiously as possible. However, this constant rush and urgency can sometimes place the very passengers who entrust the airline for their care in danger. In some instances, pilots have been confronted with serious warnings about a dangerous situation and chosen to proceed anyways, likely due to company pressures. This was part of the story of US Airways Flight 1702.
Carriers could also try to save money by hiring less experienced pilots. They may not be qualified or may have safety problems in their records.
Aircraft are complex machines with thousands of components. If any of these parts has a problem, it could potentially jeopardize the functionality of the aircraft. Problem components can arise because of a lack of maintenance or an underlying defect, such as:
- Engine failure
- Structural design flaws
- Fuel system problems
- Malfunctioning landing gear
- Navigational systems
- Wing problems
- Instrument issues
Pilots must be careful when flying in bad weather. Precipitation can affect visibility and the ability to safely land. Pilots must check the weather and be able to adapt when unexpected environmental changes arise. There are also established procedures to follow to keep safe in inclement weather.
Planes and helicopters are complex machines, so there can be many other causes of crashes that involve them. Other common causes of aviation accidents include the following:
- Ground crew error
- Improper cargo loading
- Fires during flight
- Intentional sabotage
- Runway obstructions
An experienced lawyer can conduct a thorough investigation to determine the causes of the accident and who is responsible for it.
Who Is Responsible for Aviation Accidents?
Every aviation accident is different. Each accident involves individual factors. Therefore, it is difficult to say who is responsible for aviation accidents absent a thorough investigation into the factors that contributed to a particular accident. Some of the parties who may be held liable for an accident and the legal theory behind each party may include:
Aircraft that are designed in a way that makes them more likely to crash may lead to claims against the designer of the craft.
If a component installed in the plane is defective, the manufacturer of the product can be held responsible for the accident.
The airport may be responsible for accidents caused by the negligence of their employees, such as when accidents are caused by:
- Fuel handlers who do not ensure the plane is properly refueled
- Baggage handlers who do not load cargo properly or secure it
- Crew members on the plane whose negligence contributed to the crash
- Pilots who flew while fatigued or impaired or make judgment errors
- Air traffic controllers who provide incorrect information or directives
While airlines are generally responsible for the actions of their employers, some pilots of small aircraft are the owners of the craft, so if a crash occurs, the pilot/owner may be responsible for it.
If the accident was due to a mechanical issue or failure, the third-party maintenance provider or mechanic may be responsible for the accident.
Because so many parties may be potentially responsible for the accident, it is essential to conduct a thorough investigation, gather evidence, and build a strong claim to help you pursue the compensation you deserve.
Aviation Accident Investigations
Aviation accidents are subject to thorough investigations by federal agencies, such as the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), when there are any serious injuries that occur during the flight. The FAA defines an injury as any of the following:
- An injury that requires hospitalization for at least 48 hours if occurring within seven days from the date of the injury
- Fractures to a bone other than in a finger, toe, or nose
- Internal organ injuries
- Injuries that involve second-degree or third-degree burns or burn 5% or more of the body
- Injuries that cause nerve, muscle, or tendon damage
- Injuries that cause severe hemorrhaging
Even if there is a formal investigation into the accident, it is still critical that your case receives an independent, in-depth investigation. The role of federal agencies is different from that of your personal injury lawyer. They want to learn how an accident happened to prevent it in the future, while we want to help show how the at-fault party was negligent and ensure they fairly compensate you.
We can conduct an investigation to identify, gather, and preserve strong evidence, such as:
- Information about the pilot’s health
- Aircraft registration documents
- Aircraft and pilot logbooks
- Black box data
- NTSB and FAA incident reports
- Personnel records
- Aircraft maintenance records
A thorough investigation can help identify the factors that contributed to the accident, the carelessness of the parties involved, and the legal basis for financial accountability. Our personal injury attorneys can work with investigators, hire our own experts, and prove fault.
Possible Compensation in Aviation Accidents
If you were injured or lost a loved one in an aviation accident, you may be able to file a civil claim against the at-fault party and recover compensation for the past, current, and future accident-related expenses you incur, such as:
- Medical expenses – Aviation accidents may result in catastrophic injuries, like traumatic brain injuries, spinal cord injuries, severe burn injuries, or loss of limb. These injuries can be expensive to treat and may include hospitalizations, emergency care, skin grafts, surgeries, specialist care, and follow-up care. Additionally, you may need to pay for future medical care related to permanent injuries.
- Lost income – You may miss a substantial amount of time from work to recover from the accident. You can recover compensation for the immediate lost wages you suffer, as well as for any reduction in your long-term earning capacity.
- Intangible losses – Besides being eligible for losses you suffered that are directly tied to an economic consequence, you may also be eligible to receive compensation for intangible losses you suffer that are more difficult to quantify. These losses may include pain, suffering, mental anguish, emotional distress, loss of enjoyment of life, and loss of consortium.
- Wrongful death damages – If you lost a loved one in an aviation accident, you may be able to seek damages through a wrongful death claim, which might include payment for funeral expenses, burial expenses, lost inheritance, and loss of consortium.
Contact an Experienced Aviation Accident Lawyer for Help with Your Case
If you were injured or lost a loved one in a plane crash or aviation accident, you deserve full accountability for the harm you have suffered. An experienced accident lawyer from Rapoport Weisberg & Sims P.C. can guide you through the claims process. Your case may involve complex bureaucracies and federal agencies like the NTSB and FAA. We can ensure that you understand your legal rights at all times and help you demand full compensation for your losses. Contact us today for a free case review.
You likely have many questions about aviation accidents. Here are some of the frequent questions our experienced aviation accident lawyers receive and our answers. Do not hesitate to contact us if you have any other questions about aviation accidents.
What Happens After an Aviation Accident
The aftermath of an aviation accident is often confusing. Multiple federal agencies, insurance companies, airline carriers, manufacturers, and other parties may be involved, each with its own agenda. A formal investigation may be conducted to help determine how the accident happened. The findings of these investigations may help identify who is responsible for the accident and your injuries.
It is essential you hire an aviation accident lawyer as soon as possible so someone can be looking out for your interests during this time. An experienced lawyer can ensure that valuable evidence is preserved and can help establish your claim.
How Are Private Aviation Accidents Different from Commercial Aviation Accidents?
Fewer parties are involved in private aviation accidents. Additionally, the rules for small, private aircraft are less stringent than those for large commercial airlines. Due to less oversight, safety issues may not be noticed or corrected as quickly as similar issues involving larger aircraft. This is why many crashes involve such smaller aircraft.
How Can an Aviation Accident Lawyer Help Me?
After an aviation accident, you can expect multiple parties to descend on the accident site, including federal agencies, insurers, lawyers, local, state, and federal authorities, and others. Each of these parties has its own agenda, but nearly all of them will try to sidestep liability and avoid taking financial accountability for the crash.
An aviation accident lawyer can protect your rights and ensure that you are fairly compensated for the harm you suffered. Aviation accident lawyers can investigate the accident, provide resources to bolster your claim, explain your legal rights, answer your questions, offer support, handle communications on your behalf, and negotiate for compensation on your behalf.
If you have any other questions about how we can help or would like to learn your legal options, contact our firm today for a free consultation.