Airplane Crash Liability Overview

An airplane crash can be devastating. The crash itself can cause serious, often fatal injuries to passengers and crewmembers as well as extensive damage to property. Determining the cause of a crash and who is responsible for it can be a difficult, drawn out affair. There are resources available, however. This article provides a general overview of airplane crash liability.

Airplane Crash Injuries

Airplane crashes often involve serious injuries. Passengers can suffer neck and head injuries, broken limbs, internal bleeding, and organ damage. A loss of cabin pressure or a fire can lead to severe burns and respiratory injuries. Problems in the air can also lead to heart attacks, strokes, and similar medical problems. A study published in 2008 found that most airplane crash injuries involve blunt trauma: broken bones, burns, head injuries, and similar trauma injuries. As you might expect, these injuries tend to be significant.

While only 20% of airplane crashes are fatal, deadly crashes tend to dominate the news. Surviving family members of airplane crash victims suffer injuries of their own. These include pain and suffering from the loss of a loved one and financial loss from the death of a spouse, parent, or provider. The law recognizes these injuries and permits surviving family members to file a wrongful death lawsuit to recover compensation. Surviving relatives can receive compensation to help cover a victim’s lost wages, loss of support, funeral costs, and the emotional injuries that come fro such catastrophes.

There can also be damage to property. Airplane crashes can cause the destruction or loss of baggage, shipped goods, or personal possessions. General aviation pilots and owners of private aircraft can also suffer loss from damage or destruction of a plane.  While we don’t often think of these things in airplane crashes, the law recognizes property damage as a form of injury too.

What Goes Wrong: Causes of Airplane Crashes

Pilot error is the leading cause of airplane crashes. Some sources calculate that pilot error accounts for 50% of crashes. Weather can be a contributing factor to both airplane crashes and pilot error as well, with visibility, storms, and ice causing problems for pilots and planes alike. Mechanical failure is another leading cause of airplane crashes.

Planes are complex machines consisting of many component parts, often produced by dozens or hundreds of manufacturers. A defect or failure in one part– in the electrical system, in the fuel system, or in the landing gear – can cause a crash. While there are agencies such as the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) that investigate airplane crashes, the evidence for what went wrong tends to be in the same condition as the rest of the airplane.

Determining Who’s Responsible: Causation and Liability

Who is responsible for an airplane crash is an important question. Victims and surviving family members want to know who’s at fault. Airlines and regulators want to know what went wrong to prevent future crashes. From a legal perspective, responsibility matters because it determines who is liable for resulting damages.

Airlines are often found liable for airplane crashes and resulting injuries. When pilot error, maintenance deficiencies, or other lapses cause a crash, a lawsuit can claim that the airline’s negligence was responsible. Airlines owe heightened duties of care to their passengers because they are common carriers, making them easier targets for lawsuits than might otherwise be the case.

Manufacturers of airplanes and component parts can also be found liable. American law holds manufacturers of defective products (including those used in constructing airplanes) responsible for resulting injuries. This is a legal theory known as strict products liability. Defective designs, errors in the manufacturing process, and failure to warn about potential dangers can result in manufacturer liability.

Compensation for Loss

Airplane crashes frequently involve severe injuries and extensive damages. Both of these tend to lead to lawsuits. Wrongful death lawsuits and lawsuits against airlines and manufacturers can potentially recover millions of dollar for victims and surviving family members. Most airlines provide some form of compensation on their own imitative too – crashes are bad for business.

International flights that crash can be governed by different rules. An international agreement called the Montreal Convention establishes airline liability for crashes involving death, injury, and damages on international flights. This includes a minimum compensation amount of around $150,000 per deceased passenger. Most Americans, through other legal processes, can generally recover significantly more than this amount.

Getting Help

If you or someone you know has suffered injury or the death of a loved one due to an airplane crash, consider contacting an aviation attorney to discuss your case.

Next Steps

Contact a qualified consumer attorney to assist with protecting your rights with regard to travel rules and contracts.

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