Aviation is a crucial industry in the United States, helping transport passengers and cargo over great distances in a short time. However, aviation accidents often involve serious injuries, fatalities, and substantial property damage. Determining liability for aviation accidents is a crucial step in helping survivors recover from these accidents.
Official Aviation Agencies in the U.S.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is the U.S. government agency responsible for oversight of the aviation industry, and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) tracks accident data and collates safety reports to generate comprehensive safety standards for American pilots and aviation companies.
All aircraft manufacturers must follow NTSB and FAA guidelines in the production of aircraft and associated safety equipment. Pilots must complete the required training and flight hours to qualify for private flying licenses. These agencies uphold strict rules with the goal of minimizing aviation accidents in the country. Despite significant strides in safety and navigation technology in recent decades, aviation accidents still occur at a troublesome rate.
Damages in an Aviation Accident Lawsuit
The nature of aviation accidents means that survivors are rare in plane crashes. However, some people do manage to survive plane crashes, and people on the ground around a crash site may sustain injuries or property damage. Anyone who survives a plane crash and sustains injuries or other losses can pursue legal action against the party responsible for the crash. This could mean liability falling to a pilot, the pilot’s employer, an aviation company, an aircraft manufacturer, or multiple defendants in some cases.
Most aviation accidents fall under the purview of personal injury law, meaning a plaintiff who succeeds with an aviation accident lawsuit could potentially recover several types of damages.
- Medical expenses, both immediate and future, for any and all injuries resulting from the crash.
- Lost income, both immediate and future, if the accident caused the plaintiff to miss work for an extended time or his or her injuries prevent working in the future.
- Property damages for personal property damaged or destroyed in a plane crash.
- Pain and suffering for the physical pain and emotional distress resulting from a plane crash.
- Punitive damages, if the jury finds the defendant was grossly negligent, criminally negligent, or otherwise outside the boundaries of typical negligence.
Many states in the U.S. uphold comparative fault laws, meaning fault for a claimed event could potentially fall to more than one party, including the plaintiff. In comparative fault cases involving plaintiffs partially at fault for their damages, state law determines these plaintiffs’ eligibility to recover compensation.
Under a modified comparative fault law, a plaintiff can generally recover damages if his or her fault is less than that of the defendant or the combined fault of multiple defendants. Under pure comparative negligence laws, plaintiffs can still recover damages even if they are 99% at fault for their claimed damages. In these cases, the court subtracts a percentage of a comparatively negligent plaintiff from his or her case award to reflect his or her fault.
Comparative fault also applies in cases with multiple defendants. For example, a pilot falls asleep while flying but the plane’s safety systems failed to alert the pilot to a change in elevation. The plane crashes, and the investigation determines the pilot and the aircraft manufacturer share liability for the accident.
Laws of Aviation Accidents
Both the NTSB and the FAA contribute to developing new rules and regulations for flight in the United States. While commercial air traffic faces more stringent regulations than private air travel, the majority of plane crashes in the U.S. involve small private planes. Commercial airliner crashes in the U.S. are very rare thanks to the significant strides made in safety and navigation technology.
Liability for small plane crashes typically falls to manufacturers, pilots, and private aviation companies. Poorly trained pilots, poorly maintained flight equipment and aircraft, and defective aircraft designs can all easily cause accidents. Anyone who survives a plane crash or sustains damages on the ground due to a plane crash should consult an attorney about legal options for recovery.