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The relationship of our law firm with our clients often begins in the midst of great human tradegy. When aviation goes wrong, it has the capacity to hurt and kill. With each death and injury, grief ripples through loving relationships, families and extended families, bringing terrible loss and sorrow.
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Frequently Asked Questions About Aviation Accidents and Plane Crash Law

Who is responsible when a plane crashes?

Airplanes crash for one or a combination of the following reasons:

  1. improper design usually involving an aircraft system or component part (product liability);
  2. improper manufacture usually involving an aircraft system or component part (product liability);
  3. improper maintenance usually involving aircraft maintenance or overhaul of an aircraft component or part (negligence); and
  4. pilot error in the operation of the airplane or air traffic controller error in directing the aircraft (negligence).

If it’s not one of those reasons, you’re pretty much down to an act of God.

Can you sue an airline for a plane crash?

Yes. Airlines are almost always sued in crashes involving common air carriers, even when the cause of the crash is due to improper design or improper manufacture by the airplane manufacturer and had nothing to do with pilot error or improper maintenance. Some prime examples are the crash of TWA flight 800, which literally blew up inflight due to a fuel-air-temperature mixture causing spontaneous combustion in the center fuel tank, very much like a corn silo explosion. Another example is USAir flight 427 where the cause of the crash and two other crashes was an un-commanded rudder reversal caused by an improperly designed rudder servo valve. A more recent example is Ethiopian Airlines flight 302, where a control system rendered the airplane un-controllable. The airline was sued by the passengers in all of those cases even though the airline itself was not at fault for the crash.

Who can be held liable in an Aviation Accident?

Anyone who caused or contributed to the cause of an airplane crash can be held liable for the crash. For more see Who Is Liable in an Aviation Accident: Assigning Liability.

How much do plane crash victims get?

The amount of compensation varies case-by-case, depending on the specifics of each case. Compensation falls broadly into two categories. All cases provide for payment of calculable economic losses such as lost income in the past and future. In personal injury cases, a victim can also be compensated for their pain and suffering and mental anguish. In death cases, compensation includes pre-impact fear and post-impact conscious pain and suffering before death.

Do airlines compensate crash survivors?

Yes, airlines will compensate crash victims if the airline is at fault for the accident. If the cause of a crash is pilot error or improper maintenance, then the fault is attributed to the airline and the airline compensates the victims. If the cause of a crash is related to improper design or manufacture, then the airplane manufacturer generally pays the victims.

Who investigates after a plane crash?

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigates all crashes in the United States and all crashes of U.S. registered aircraft on foreign soil. In addition, the NTSB often assists foreign investigatory agencies if the crash occurs on foreign soil but involves a United States airline. However, the NTSB is “assisted” in its investigation by the airplane and engine manufacturer, so it is really the fox watching the hen house. Moreover, the conclusions, opinions and findings of the NTSB are inadmissible in court.

Consequently, a separate investigation must be conducted by expert witnesses retained by the lawyers for the victims and families who bring legal claims.

How long does a plane crash investigation take?

The length of a crash investigation varies depending on the complexity of the events and dynamics leading to a crash. Generally a minimum of four to six months and as long as a year, occasionally longer.

What is the process of an aircraft accident investigation?

The process of an aircraft accident investigation is to eliminate all other possible causes, narrowing the determination of a probable cause to the sole remaining conclusion. Even if the cause of a crash appears obvious, the accepted protocol is to investigate and eliminate all other possibilities, leaving only the final determination as the likely cause.

What is most important in an investigation of an airplane crash?

The most important considerations in an accident investigation are the qualifications and integrity of the accident investigators and their thoroughness in pursuit of the facts. The accident investigators often have different backgrounds, almost always involving engineering, including degreed accident investigators, metallurgists, along with meteorologists and piloting experts. There needs to be a team of professionals working together to uncover the facts needed to reach a determination of the cause of each crash.

Who investigates air crashes in the USA?

Airplane crashes in the USA are investigated by the NTSB, but the opinions and conclusions of the NTSB are inadmissible in court and private victims and litigants cannot rely on the investigation conducted by the government and their lawyers need to be knowledgeable in retaining experts to conduct a thorough investigation separate and apart from the government’s investigation.

What two agencies usually investigate aircraft accidents?

The NTSB, assisted by the FAA, conduct investigations for the government, but not for private litigation. Legal claimants must have qualified expert investigators conduct a separate and independent investigation.

Does the NTSB investigate every plane crash?

The NTSB only investigates aircraft accidents involving injury to persons or substantial damage to an aircraft.

What happens if a family member dies in a plane crash?

If a family member dies in a plane crash, the nearest adult relative should retain a law firm that specializes in aircraft crash cases. That law firm should immediately send a letter to the aircraft insurer, demanding that it retain the wreckage in a secured, indoor facility because the wreckage is essential evidence. The law firm should obtain all of the airplane logbooks and records and the law firm should immediately assemble an accident investigation team of qualified expert witnesses. This should happen as soon as practical to make sure that all deadlines and statutes of limitation are preserved and tolled and to make sure the evidence is preserved.

Does life insurance cover plane crashes?

Life insurance typically covers claims arising from commercial airline accidents and typically excludes claims for accidents involving general aviation and corporate aviation crashes.

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