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Aviation Accidents Frequently Asked Questions

What legal rights do I have after an aviation accident?

A. If a person is injured or killed in an aviation accident, a lawsuit may be brought to recover money damages from those responsible for causing the accident. Examples of parties that may be legally responsible for money damages in an airplane crash case include the pilots, the airline(s) involved, the owner of the aircraft, the manufacturer of the aircraft and its key parts, the aircraft maintenance provider, the government (for possible negligence by air traffic controllers and weather services), and airport operators. Further, the facts of a particular aviation case may dictate investigation into the conduct of others.

Depending on the circumstances, the people who may have a right to bring a lawsuit and/or recover damages include any person injured in the accident, the spouse of a person injured in the accident, the legal guardian of a person injured in the accident, the personal representative for the estate of a person killed in the accident, the next of kin of a person killed in the accident, and people in the “zone of danger” who experience emotional harm due to the accident. A qualified aviation attorney will be able to advise you, based on the circumstances of your case, about who has a right to bring a lawsuit and/or recover monetary damages from the responsible parties.

For example, in the United States, when a person is injured in an aviation accident, in most cases the injured victim may bring a claim along with his or her spouse, who is entitled to compensation for the loss of support, services and other benefits that married couples provide to each other.

In wrongful death cases arising from an airplane accident, most states provide that the decedent’s spouse and children, if any, are entitled to sue for damages. In most states, if there is no spouse, then a child (or guardian of a child) may sue, and if there is no spouse or child, then the decedent’s parents are often entitled to sue. Typically, after the parents, siblings are next in line of priority.

However, the damages standards for wrongful death cases vary widely among the states, with some jurisdictions only permitting recovery of financial losses and others recognizing the need to compensate for noneconomic losses involved in the death of a loved one. There is a growing trend recognizing noneconomic losses in wrongful death cases, and these losses are often the largest losses in a case.

For accidents involving international flights, the Montreal Convention often will apply and the passenger’s travel itinerary becomes very important. Only an experienced international aviation lawyer will be familiar with the law in this area.

The aviation accident attorneys at Rapoport Weisberg & Sims P.C. have successfully represented clients in domestic and international aviation disasters, including those involving private and commercial aircraft. If you or a loved one has been in an airplane or helicopter crash, our aviation lawyers would be able to provide counsel specific to the circumstances of the incident.

What monetary compensation is available for aviation accident victims?

A. Every state has its own laws about what types of monetary damages are available to compensate those who have been harmed by the negligence of others in an airplane crash. Generally, an injured person may be compensated for past and future medical expenses, past and future lost earnings, past and future pain and suffering, past and future disability and any disfigurement that has resulted from the accident. Generally, in a wrongful death case, the decedent’s estate may be compensated for the decedent’s loss of future earnings, medical expenses, funeral expenses, and pain and suffering, while the decedent’s next of kin may be compensated for the loss of their loved one.

Just as different states recognize different categories of damages, some states also have laws limiting the amount of money damages that can be recovered. A qualified aviation attorney will be able to explain what types of damages may be recovered in your case, whether any damages caps apply and the best strategies available within the law to maximize the value of your particular case.

How much money will I get for my lawsuit?

A. In most jurisdictions, if the defendants are found liable, you are entitled to a judgment that fully compensates you for your financial loss. For other elements of harm, jurisdictions differ on what you are entitled to. If you suffered a personal injury, the defendant is responsible for paying for your medical care — both past and future — past and future lost earnings, and an amount to compensate you for pain and suffering. Your spouse also might be entitled to an award referred to as loss of consortium.

If a loved one died, the recovery usually starts with the amount of economic support and services that you lost. In many jurisdictions, additional amounts, such as the loss of prospective inheritance, loss of companionship, pain and suffering, grief, mental anguish and emotional distress damages may be available. If the conduct that caused the accident was egregious, in some jurisdictions, you may also be entitled to an award of punitive damages, but some jurisdictions do not allow this and punitive damages are not currently available against airlines for accidents on international flights governed by the Montreal Convention.

How quickly after an airplane accident must I hire an aviation attorney?

A. You should not feel pressured to make an immediate decision about pursuing a claim for compensation. Attending to injuries suffered during the incident or mourning the loss of loved ones should take precedence over financial issues at this difficult time. However, do keep in mind that each country (or sometimes each state, province or other subdivision within that country) imposes a deadline for lawsuits. This deadline is usually known as the statute of limitations. Certain international flights are governed by the Montreal Convention, an international treaty that provides its own deadline of two years from the date of the accident. Because it can be difficult to determine which deadline applies, it is important to seek the advice of an aviation lawyer before the shortest possible deadline expires. Lawsuits against governments often are a possibility, since those entities provide weather and air traffic control services to pilots and operate many airports, so their negligence may play a role in some accidents. When suing a governmental entity, you can be subject to extremely short deadlines, sometimes less than one year.

What are the NTSB and FAA and what roles do they play following an airplane crash?

A. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) are two government agencies that play a large role in the investigation of aviation accidents. The NTSB operates as a government investigation agency. When there is an accident involving any branch of mass transportation, including aviation crashes, the NTSB investigates the circumstances of the accident to determine the “probable cause” and then makes recommendations based on that investigation to improve transportation safety.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is the federal agency responsible for regulating aviation and operating the air traffic control system. Whether violations of FAA regulations have occurred causing an air disaster is often a contentious issue in aviation litigation.

Should airplane crash victims or their families discuss settlement with the airline or its insurance company?

A. Airlines and their insurers have highly skilled professionals representing their interests in the immediate aftermath of an air disaster, while most victims and their families start out knowing little about their legal rights. Many families think about avoiding litigation by promptly settling their legal claims. While this solution may seem simple and easy, as a practical matter, it is unlikely to work and may result in considerable harm. Allowing the airline or its insurance representatives to negotiate directly with the family can be a recipe for a bad result.

This is where qualified aviation lawyers with substantial settlement and trial experience in airplane crash cases can make a big difference. Aviation lawyers have the knowledge and experience most passengers and their families need, and they are typically paid a percentage of what is recovered, so their financial interests are aligned with their client’s. Moreover, the percentage charged for legal fees in air disaster cases is often lower than clients initially expect, so most airplane crash victims and their families choose the peace of mind and are better off having someone on their side with the right knowledge and financial interest from very early on. If the airline’s insurance claims professional calls, you may wish to politely inform him or her that your family is represented or intends to hire an attorney and your attorney will be in touch. It is likely the claims professional will understand and respect this answer and will generally not be surprised by your desire to seek legal representation in the aftermath of an aviation accident.

Aircraft are complex machines, and litigation following an aviation accident often involves multiple parties and complex questions concerning what happened, who was legally responsible and how the matter should be resolved. Not only legal experts (attorneys), but also aviation experts such as engineers and pilots working on your behalf are critical to properly evaluate the case and advise you of your rights. Without these experts, you may never know what really happened or what the true value of your case is. It is important to understand that the airline and its insurers always employ the services of expert lawyers who seek to avoid responsibility or at least minimize the payments that will be made to the victims and families following an aircraft accident. In contrast, qualified aviation accident lawyers identify all responsible parties and maximize the compensation that can be obtained.

Where should my airplane crash lawsuit be filed?

A. A plane crash lawsuit requires careful consideration of a variety of factors to determine the best possible city and state where a case should be filed. Many of these factors are particular to each client and the facts of each case. Qualified aviation accident attorneys consider factors such as:

  • The background and profiles of prospective jurors in an area

  • The law and any damage caps in a particular state

  • The location of witnesses

  • The ability to recover the broadest range of damages for the individual injuries suffered

It is not unusual for aviation law firms to litigate airplane crash cases outside of their home jurisdictions. Rapoport Weisberg & Sims P.C.’s aviation trial team has successfully represented clients in the United States with lawsuits arising from airplane crashes that occurred in the United States and abroad.

Are there time limits for bringing an airplane crash lawsuit?

A. Yes, except for rare exceptions, there are time limits for bringing a lawsuit. Once the time limit expires, you lose any right to recover monetary damages from those responsible for the accident. Several factors affect how long the time limit will be in a case. After an airplane accident, it is important to contact an aviation attorney as soon as possible to find out how long you have to bring a lawsuit.

How long does an aviation lawsuit take and how much of my time will it consume?

A. Aircraft crash investigations are often complex. It typically takes many months before definitive conclusions about the cause of a plane crash can be reached. In some instances, a case will settle shortly after it is filed, and occasionally even before. On average, a final resolution takes approximately two years.

While your case is pending, it should not take up much of your time. An experienced aviation attorney will conduct the investigation, collect the evidence, perform the legal research and prosecute the lawsuit. You will need to provide information to the attorney before and from time to time during the lawsuit. You may also have to provide deposition testimony and will be involved in settlement discussions as the case proceeds. Your aviation accident attorney will serve as an adviser about any settlement offers, but you will make the final decision about whether to accept a settlement. If the case does not settle before trial, you will need to attend and testify at the trial.

What qualifications should my aviation attorneys have?

A. In deciding on representation, families should seek an aviation accident lawyer who has substantial experience successfully handling similar cases. It is important to not only verify the reputation and experience of the law firm as a whole, but to be sure that your case will be handled by individuals with appropriate experience. In addition, it is important that the aviation law firm representing your interests have a solid network of qualified experts available to assist in working up your case. Such experts may include aeronautical engineers, pilots, meteorologists and air traffic controllers. Finally, aviation cases can be extremely expensive to litigate, so it is important that the firm you choose has the financial resources to conduct the case through trial and appeal if necessary.

What does it cost to hire an experienced aviation attorney and law firm?

A. In personal injury and wrongful death lawsuits, injured parties usually pay a contingent legal fee. Under a contingent fee arrangement, the client does not pay the attorney an hourly rate. Instead the attorney’s fee is a defined percentage of the amount of money that is recovered in a lawsuit. That percentage can vary depending on the circumstances of the case. Additionally, the law firm you are working with will usually pay all necessary out-of-pocket expenses subject to a right of reimbursement without interest at the conclusion of the case, sometimes before, and sometimes after the contingent fee is calculated. In a contingent fee arrangement, if there is no financial recovery in a lawsuit, no fee is paid to the attorneys.

Will I have to pay a fee for Rapoport Weisberg & Sims P.C. to review my case?

A. No.

Does Rapoport Weisberg & Sims P.C. handle only commercial aviation claims?

A. No. In addition to extensive experience with commercial air disaster litigation, our aviation attorneys are well-qualified and experienced in general aviation cases involving helicopters, business jets, turbine-powered aircraft and piston-powered aircraft.

Can you help me if my aviation accident occurred outside the United States or over the ocean?

A. Yes. If you or a loved one was a United States resident traveling on an international flight, the Montreal Convention may permit you to bring suit in the United States regardless of where the accident or injury occurred. If you are a resident of another nation, we have succeeded in establishing rights for people like you in other cases. If this is not possible, we are affiliated with a network of premier aviation law attorneys worldwide and can assist you in finding expert counsel in the jurisdiction where your claim can best be prosecuted.

Why is Rapoport Weisberg & Sims P.C. the right law firm to handle an aviation negligence case?

  • Rapoport Weisberg & Sims P.C.’s aviation negligence lawyers have an outstanding record of success representing clients with cases arising from airplane crashes and aviation accidents.
  • Our aviation lawyers are skilled negotiators; however, they are also highly experienced litigators who are not afraid to take a case to trial.
  • Rapoport Weisberg & Sims P.C. has an established and constantly expanding network of expert resources to aggressively pursue the best outcome for our clients under their unique circumstances.
  • Rapoport Weisberg & Sims P.C. exclusively represents individuals who have suffered severe injuries and families that have lost loved ones as the result of the negligence of others.
  • Our aviation lawyers and legal support staff take great pride in delivering personalized legal service, never losing focus of what matters most — our clients.

Are there other ways to contact Rapoport Weisberg & Sims P.C.?

A. You can begin by simply pressing this contact us link or pressing the contact us button in the upper right corner of this web page.