How the law treats aviation accidents differently

On Behalf of | Jul 26, 2023 | Aviation Accidents

If you are injured in a car or motorcycle accident caused by someone else’s negligence, you can pursue compensation for your damages through a personal injury lawsuit. In cases involving a fatal accident, family members of the deceased may pursue compensation for their damages through a type of personal injury claim known as a wrongful death action.

In many ways, aviation accident claims work similarly to those involving car or motorcycle accidents, but there are some key differences. In this blog post, we will take a brief look at some of the special considerations for aviation accident claims.

Causes of aviation accidents

Most motor vehicle accident cases involve multiple drivers, and so the defendants in these cases are typically drivers who have been accused of negligence.

This isn’t the case for aviation accident cases. Instead, these cases typically involve accusations of human error (on the part of the pilot or the air traffic controller), equipment failure or design defects.

Which causation factors apply can have a profound impact on the case.

Federal implications

For example, if the plaintiff is alleging that the accident was caused by the negligence of an air traffic controller, the defendant is the federal government. Aviation is controlled by federal law and air traffic controllers are federal employees.

So, instead of making your case against a negligent driver or their insurance company’s lawyer, you will be making your case against the Federal Aviation Administration and/or the National Transportation Safety Board. Taking legal action against these agencies requires some special procedures under the Federal Tort Claims Act.

Likewise, if the accident involved a passenger plane, and you are alleging that pilot error caused the accident, your case may also involve federal common carrier laws, which can be complex.

Product liability

If you are alleging that the accident was caused by poorly designed parts in the aircraft, the applicable legal theory is known as product liability. This refers to a body of law meant to hold designers, manufacturers and sellers liable for damages after consumers have been injured by defective products.

This area of the law generally holds defendants strictly liable in these cases, meaning that the plaintiff doesn’t have to prove that the defendants acted negligently or intentionally. However, that doesn’t mean these cases are easy — far from it. The plaintiff still must show that the product was defective, and this requires presenting complex technical evidence, often in the form of expert witness testimony.

It’s also important to note that there are some limitations on product liability claims in aviation cases under the federal General Aviation Revitalization Act.

Experience is important

As  you can see, aviation accident cases can be much more complex than a typical motor vehicle accident case, legally speaking. What’s more, when the defendants are federal agencies or large airlines, they a have access to tremendous resources when they defend themselves. It’s important that you have help from experienced representation.