In 2011, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) reports that there were 1,550 civil aviation accidents, an increase from 1,500 in 2010. Of those, 1,466 fell into the "general aviation" category, comprised of "Part 121" (commercial air carriers like Delta, United Airlines, AirTran or Southwest) and "Part 135" (on-demand commuter services) vehicles.
The umbrella term "civil aviation" encompasses all manner of air travel, including commercial airlines transporting both passengers and freight, private planes, corporate jets, ultra lights, gliders, helicopters, airbuses, charter services and air medical transport providers. There were no fatal accidents involving American commercial passenger carriers in 2011, but still nearly 500 lives were lost in aviation crashes.
Experts blame the uptick on a number of factors, including unforeseen weather events, mechanical failures and human error.
Liability for Aviation Accidents
Liability for an aviation accident depends on a number of factors and include a number of factors such as:
- Pilot error
- Mechanical failure
- Defective machine component
- Negligent or improper maintenance leading to engine failure or improper operation of the plane
- Violation of state law or Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations
- Negligence of personnel like pilots, co-pilots, engineers, navigators, flight attendance or airport ground staff
- Improper loading of cargo
- Improper fueling of the aircraft, leading to an engine or component fire
- Air traffic controller negligence leading to runway or in-air collisions of two or more aircraft
If the accident involved a private plane and the pilot lost control (i.e. the accident was solely the result of human error, with no mechanical issues contributing to the incident), injuring or killing only himself, it is not likely that the airplane manufacturer, the mechanic or the owners of the airport where the plane was stored prior to the flight could be held legally responsible.
On the other hand, if the accident was found to be the result of a defectively manufactured or machined engine component, then it is possible that any number of people or companies involved in the design, creation and distribution of such a component might be held liable.
Legal Strategies Involved
These types of cases are often filed under the legal concept of "strict liability." This means that the law demands that a certain standard of care is to be met when dealing with certain products. A party injured by a defectively made or designed product will likely be able to recover compensation if he or she can prove:
- The product was faulty (either it was designed improperly or it was manufactured in such a way to make it defective as produced) when it left the control of the defendant/accused
- The product was used as it was intended and in a foreseeable manner (how it was supposed to be used)
- The defective product was the cause of the injuries sustained
Regardless of whether an aviation accident lawsuit was brought under the theory of strict liability or some other legal construct, these cases are oftentimes complex, tedious and difficult. They need to be handled by experienced attorneys who are up to the challenge presented by the interplay of multiple victims, several responsible parties, state and federal aviation laws and jurisdictional issues (particularly if the plane took off in one state but the accident occurred in another state or in international airspace).
If you or a loved one has suffered injuries in an aviation accident, seek the advice of a skilled personal injury attorney in your area to learn more about your legal rights and options.