Airplane accidents can occur for a wide variety of reasons. These reasons can include pilot error, manufacturing defects, structural or design problems in the airplane, weather conditions, and even encounters with animal life, e.g., birds.
People who are injured and those for whom an accident is fatal and their survivors may have rights regarding adequate compensation for injuries and deaths caused by an airplane accident. It is important to remember that not all aviation accidents involve crashes. Passengers can be injured inside the cabin of airplanes. Airports workers and others can be injured in aviation accidents on the ground.
Who Can Be Liable for an Aviation Accident?
The issue of what might have caused any particular aviation accident is important in every case because it can determine who is legally liable to remedy the injured victims.
Many different parties have an interest in investigating aviation accidents. Of course, injured victims and the surviving family members of fatally injured people want to know who is at fault. In addition, airlines are regulated by the federal government, and it routinely investigates aviation accidents to identify the causes and prevent future incidents.
If an airplane crashes and resulting injuries are caused by the error of a pilot, faulty or inadequate maintenance, or other negligence on the part of the airline or other company that owns the plane, the victims can file lawsuits claiming that the airline’s negligence makes it liable to pay damages.
Airlines are what are known as “common carriers.” A common carrier is usually a company that transports goods or people and is responsible for any possible loss to their cargo during transportation. Railroads, bus lines, taxi companies, phone companies, internet service providers, and cruise ships are common carriers.
As common carriers, airlines owe a heightened duty of care to the passengers who fly on their airplanes. So, if any accident originates from the airline’s negligence, the victims can sue the airline for damages under a theory of negligence.
In addition, the manufacturers of airplanes and their parts can also be found legally liable for harm caused by accidents under a theory of strict product liability. The manufacturers of defective products can be liable to compensate people harmed by the defects in their products.
An airplane is a product like any other, although it is larger and more complex. Still, the manufacturer of an airplane may have to answer to victims if their airplane is defective and the defect directly causes injury to passengers who fly in the plane.
Defective designs, errors in the manufacturing process, and failure to warn about potential dangers can result in manufacturer liability to those injured. In a recent example, the Boeing company was sued when two of its 737 MAX planes crashed, one in Indonesia in 2018 and one in Ethiopia in 2019. Of all passengers on board both flights, 346 people were killed.
Investigation revealed that both crashes were in part caused by a defective automated flight control system called “MCAS.” In addition, investigators for federal government authorities discovered that after the first crash, Boeing knew that the MCAS system was a continuing safety issue but did not act to ground the planes. Rather, Boeing assured the public and government authorities that the plane was safe.
The families of over 100 passengers who died in the two crashes filed lawsuits claiming that the 727 MAX airplane was defectively designed and that Boeing had also issued inadequate warnings about the issues with the plane’s automated flight control system.
Boeing was also charged with conspiracy to defraud the U.S. and admitted that it had intentionally deceived the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regarding the 737 MAX.
Boeing agreed with the U.S. Justice Department. The agreement provided that the company would pay a criminal fine of $243.6 million and compensation to Boeing’s 737 MAX airline customers of $1.77 billion. The company further agreed to pay $500 million to set up a fund to compensate the heirs and family members of the 346 passengers who died in the two crashes of the 737 MAX.
What Should I Do If I Have Been Injured in an Aviation Accident?
As noted above, the owners and operators of an airplane owe each person who flies in the airplane a duty to use reasonable care in their operation of the plane. People who have been injured because of the negligence of airplane owners or pilots can recover damages if they prove the elements of a cause of action for negligence. These include the following:
- An airline or pilot owed passengers a legal duty of reasonable care to protect them from injuries;
- The airline or the pilot breached their duty by acting negligently or recklessly;
- The breach of duty by the airline or its pilot caused the injury to the victim;
- The victim suffered a serious injury.
Another option is a lawsuit based on a strict product liability theory, as noted above.
A person who has been injured would consult a lawyer who could aid them in determining what caused the accident, who might have been responsible, and whether the manufacturer of the plane, the owner of it, or the pilot should be named in a lawsuit for negligence or strict product liability.
If a person’s family member has perished in an aviation accident, they would want to file a lawsuit for wrongful death.
What Types of Damages Can Be Recovered?
Whether a person succeeds in a lawsuit for negligence or one for strict product liability, they recover an award of compensatory damages. Compensatory damages reimburse the injured person for the economic and non-economic losses they incur because they were injured. Economic losses would include such items as the following:
- The full cost of all necessary medical treatment;
- Property damage, including the loss of use of the property as well as the cost of repair or replacement of the property
- Loss of salary or wages, both past and future, if a person is unable to work because of their injuries;
- Loss of earning capacity;
- The loss of employment or business opportunities.
Non-economic damages mostly compensate a victim for their pain and suffering.
Would I Need to Use Expert Witnesses?
A person would most likely need the help of expert witnesses in an aviation accident case. The type of experts needed would depend on the cause of the accident. If the cause were a pilot error, then a person would need an expert in airplane piloting to explain what mistake the pilot made, how it affected the airplane and the passengers inside it, and how it directly caused any resulting accident.
If the cause of the accident were a defective aircraft, then a person would need the help of an aeronautical engineer to determine in what way the design or manufacture of the airplane introduced a defect and how the defect was the direct cause of the accident.
Various medical experts might be required to explain how what happened to the plane affected the passengers and inflicted injury on them. Medical experts might also testify about the extent of the treatment that victims require and what treatment they might require in the future or whether they have recovered as fully as expected.
Economic experts could also be needed to testify about a person’s injuries and how they have affected their life, e.g., their mobility or ability to work in the long term.
An aviation accident case can involve complex engineering, technical, economic, and medical issues. Proving facts relating to these issues would require expert testimony.
Do I Need the Help of a Lawyer for My Aviation Accident Issue?
If you have been injured or if a family member has perished in an airplane accident, you want to consult an experienced personal injury lawyer. Your lawyer can enlist the experts needed to identify the cause of the accident and whether the airlines that owned the plane or the company that manufactured it can be legally liable for your injuries or the death of your family member.
Your lawyer will be qualified to ensure that you recover the damages you are entitled to for the aviation accident in which you were involved.