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Flying High, Falling Hard: Your Guide to Aviation Accidents

Aviation accidents, while rare, do unfortunately occur. In 2015, there were 1,282 reported aviation accidents, resulting in 406 fatalities. This was a slight decrease from the 1,290 accidents in 2014, which sadly saw 444 lives lost.

When these accidents happen, they can have a profound impact on lives. For those who are seriously injured, they face not only the physical and emotional aftermath but also practical concerns like medical bills, loss of income, and the pain and suffering that comes with such a traumatic event.

The toll is equally heavy for the families of those who lose their lives in these accidents. The emotional loss is compounded by financial worries, affecting loved ones left behind.

Even those indirectly affected by the accident can experience emotional distress.

It's important to note that not every aviation accident stems from negligence or recklessness. Many factors like communication errors, human error, improper procedures, or faulty equipment can play a part. Regardless of the cause, when these accidents are due to someone's responsibility, those affected have the right to seek accountability.

If you've been injured or have lost a loved one in an aviation accident, knowing your rights is crucial. Whether you're a direct relative or a legal guardian, understanding these rights is the first step in navigating the aftermath of such a tragic event. Here’s an essential guide to what you need to know about aviation accidents.

Who’s to Blame?

There are many different causes of aviation accidents. As mentioned, they can range from negligent and reckless pilots to improper procedures (i.e. forcing pilots to fly too many hours without adequate rest), faulty equipment that breaks due to spotty maintenance, miscommunication, or simple human error.

One of the first challenges in a legal battle over compensation and justice is to figure out who is liable. There is a wide variety of parties who can be held accountable depending on their role in the accident. This list includes:

  • The pilots
  • The aircrew
  • Maintenance personnel
  • Air traffic controllers
  • Airport administrators
  • Civil aviation authorities
  • The airline
  • The manufacturer of the aircraft
  • The owner of the aircraft

Investigation will be required to find out who is responsible. The National Traffic Safety Board (NTSB) performs investigations of all mass transportation accidents in the United States, often assisted by state and local authorities. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is responsible for maintaining regulations and overseeing the nation’s air traffic control system, and they assist in investigations as well.

Generally, we depend on the results of these investigations, although we can conduct our own investigations to get closer to the truth.

At the end of an investigation, you will have a better idea of who may be held liable for the accident. Keep in mind, though, that while you can sue any party, you have to be able to prove the accusation in order to recover damages from that party.

Taking Action: When and How to Find an Aviation Lawyer

The first step in taking action is getting treatment. While there are statutes of limitations on how long you have to file a lawsuit against a party - i.e. you only have a certain amount of time to decide to take legal action - this isn’t something you have to do right away. Get treated medically and take care of yourself and your family. That comes first.

Should you decide you want to pursue legal action, to pay for rising medical bills and lost compensation because you can’t work (or to seek damages from the death of a loved one), then you need to research aviation lawyers.

We recommend finding an attorney with whom you feel comfortable. Find an attorney who you can trust. The relationship between the attorney and the client - you - is the most important part.

If you can’t trust your attorney, and can’t depend on him or her communicating with you, then you will have a harder time seeing your case through to the end. And you’ll regret the relationship.

Finding an aviation lawyer who knows how to pursue this type of case is also important. Aviation accidents have a lot in common with motor vehicle accidents, but they’re also very unique. Your lawyer needs to understand those distinctions.

How Much Can You Recover?

When it comes to aviation accidents, there may be several things for which you can be compensated. These include:

  • Medical treatment
  • Physical therapy and rehabilitation services
  • Counseling/psychological treatment
  • Equipment necessary for ongoing treatment
  • Lost wages
  • Disability
  • Pain and suffering
  • Emotional turmoil
  • Burial expenses
  • Property damage or loss
  • Loss of support

Even those in the so-called “zone of danger” - an area in which a person was subjected to negligent infliction of emotional distress by being at risk of physical harm from an aviation accident - can sue.

There is no magic formula that explains just how much you’ll be able to recover. It varies from case to case, and there are a lot of things that need to be calculated.

We can give you a general idea of the compensatory damages you may be able to recover, and can estimate what kind of punitive damages - damages intended to punish the responsible party -  we’d ask the court for in on your behalf. In the state of Alabama, punitive damages are capped at no more than three times the amount of compensatory damages (i.e. what you can get from lost wages, medical treatment, etc.), or, $1.5 million, whichever is greater.

If one of the parties in the lawsuit is a small business (defined by having a net worth of $2 million or less at the time of the accident), you’re limited to $50,000 or 10% of the business’s net worth, whichever is greater

Note that these limits do not apply for wrongful death cases. For cases in which you or a loved one die due to the negligent actions of someone else, there is no limit on punitive damages.

Talking to an aviation lawyer is the best way to get an idea of how much you can recover. Your lawyer should point out that anything can happen; judges and juries can decide anything, and it may be best to settle out of court for a smaller amount.

Getting Justice for Your Aviation Accident

Aviation accidents are frightening and emotionally disturbing. They can wreak havoc on us not just physically, but psychologically. They can disrupt our daily lives. And they can cause great loss to us and our loved ones.

In the event of an aviation accident, you’ll need someone to be on your side at some point in the process. Talk to an aviation lawyer today who understands how to handle a unique case like yours and can be trusted.

Frequently Asked Questions

What should I do immediately after an aviation accident?

In the immediate aftermath of an aviation accident, your first priority should be seeking medical attention for any injuries. Once you are safe and stable, contact a reputable aviation attorney as soon as possible to discuss your potential claim. They can guide you through the necessary steps to preserve evidence, such as taking photographs or securing witness statements, and help you understand your rights.

How long do I have to file a lawsuit after an aviation accident?

The timeframe within which you can file a lawsuit after an aviation accident, known as the statute of limitations, varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Generally, it can be anywhere from one to three years from the date of the accident. However, it's important to consult with an aviation attorney as soon as possible because certain factors can affect this timeframe.

Can I sue the airline even if the accident was caused by a weather event or another factor out of their control?

While airlines are often held responsible for negligence or misconduct leading to an accident, cases involving factors outside of their control, such as severe weather, can be complex. In some instances, airlines can still be held accountable if it can be proven they operated the flight in known dangerous weather conditions, or failed to maintain or use equipment that could have prevented the accident. An aviation attorney can help evaluate the specifics of your case to determine potential liability.

Ready to work together? Contact us today for a free consultation.


If you or a loved one have been injured and think you might have a case, call us now for a free consultation.