When you need an injury lawyer after a plane crash or aviation accident
Plane travel has never been safer.
Plane crashes get a lot of news coverage because they are often catastrophic and usually result in a significant number of fatalities. However, you are far more likely to be involved in a car accident in your lifetime than in a plane crash.
However, many aviation-related injuries are not because of a plane crash.
Aviation injury statistics compiled by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) include incidents like luggage-handling injuries, slip-and-fall accidents on the passenger boarding bridge, tripping hazards in the plane’s aisle, minor in-flight bumps from turbulence, or other types of accidents.
Most crash-related injuries are from small plane flights, and not commercial jetliners.
The victims were a brother and sister in their 20s who were likely trying to land the plane nearby since the homeowners were related to the victims. In fact, the plane’s pilot was on the phone with the homeowner moments before the crash. The homeowners were in the house at the time of the crash, and they reported hearing a noise “like a bomb going off.” When they went outside, they saw parts of the plane scattered around the lawn.
The pilot had worked as a float plane pilot and flight instructor since 2020. He called the homeowner, his sister-in-law, to tell her she should go outside to see him buzz overhead, but the plane crashed moments later after flying at low altitude and engaging in a loop maneuver. The plane flew upside down toward the top of the loop and then righted itself just before it crashed because there was not enough clearance to complete the loop. It crashed nose down into the ground near the house. The wings were torn off by impact and investigators found no mechanical or structural problems with the plane.
Causes of aviation accidents
There are 3 primary causes of aviation accidents:
Although there are stringent standards for becoming a licensed pilot, even experienced pilots make mistakes.
A pilot needs to know how to handle unexpected events like storms or wind, and also mechanical malfunctions. If the pilot is familiar with the plane mechanics, they might be able to handle an in-flight technical problem safely.
If there’s a severe storm, a large jetliner can usually climb to a higher altitude that allows it to soar over the storm. But a small plane is more susceptible to sudden bad weather conditions. A lightning strike could cause complete electrical failure or other problems.
Small plane pilots must stay tuned in to weather conditions, both actual and anticipated, and modify their flight course accordingly. Pilots need to be trained to not only manage a weather event, but also to predict when it might happen.
Commercial aircraft are much safer than small planes because there are far fewer accidents, BUT you’re also more likely to survive a small plane crash than a crash on a commercial jet.
A small plane could force a landing in a rural or unprepared area, whereas a commercial jetliner likely can’t, due to its size and speed of travel. A small plane has a better chance of managing to coast to an unexpected landing. Even so, an equipment malfunction can lead to tragedy. Even the most experienced pilot can only do so much if the plane’s equipment fails.
According to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the other top causes of fatal general aviation accidents are:
- Loss of control during a flight
- Controlled flight into terrain
- System component failure (powerplant)
- Fuel-related complications
- System component failure (non-powerplant)
- Unintended flight into instrument meteorological conditions (IMC)
- Midair collisions
- Low-altitude operations
Plane crash liability
An aviation-related injury is just like any other personal injury claim when it comes to receiving damages, or compensation.
If you are injured as a result of a person or entity’s negligence, you can recover money to cover the costs related to the injury.
This can include:
- Medical treatment (including doctor or hospital visits, medication, diagnostic testing like X-rays or MRIs, etc.)
- Ongoing rehabilitative or physical therapy
- Assistance with daily living activities (cooking, cleaning, childcare, etc.)
- Loss of consortium for loss of affection, companionship, and services of a family member
- Lost wages, including loss of earning capacity if you’re unable to resume your job because of long-term effects of your injury
- Wrongful death, if you are the survivor of a family member killed in an aviation accident
- Property loss (if you are the owner of a home that was damaged by a plane crash)
How do you make a claim?
That depends on who is liable. Unfortunately, this is a hard question to answer because there could be a number of defendants, or liable parties.
A flight crash investigation could take months. Whether or not there are legal claims, agencies like the FAA and the NTSB will need to investigate what went wrong in order to prevent future accidents.
If the crash involves a private plane, there could be negligence on the part of the pilot or owner of the plane.
Negligence could be attributed to the:
- Plane owner
- Maintenance company
- Federal government
The federal government employs air traffic controllers to direct and guide pilots through the airspace. If they make a mistake that results in a crash, the government could be the negligent party.
Strict products liability
You might have a strict products liability claim if the reason for the accident was an equipment or mechanical failure. If that happened, the defendant would be either the manufacturer of the plane or the manufacturer of one of the components.
In general, a defective product case could be for:
- Design defect. This occurs when a properly made product was dangerous in the way it was designed, or when a product doesn’t perform as expected when used in the manner in which it was intended.
- Marketing defect. This would involve a part or process that doesn’t have the correct warnings (failure to warn) or instructions.
- Manufacturing defect. The product was safe as designed, but it was manufactured improperly and the result didn’t reflect the design.
A plane is constructed with hundreds or thousands of parts, many of which come from a variety of manufacturers. Once the investigation is complete, the investigating agency should make a statement about what caused the crash.
If you were injured while boarding or disembarking a plane, or during a flight, because of something unrelated to the flight itself, it’s most likely that the airline is responsible for your injuries.
These types of injuries could be a slip-and-fall or trip-and-fall while boarding, tripping over an item left in the aisle, an item falling from the overhead luggage bins, or similar. It’s the flight crew’s responsibility to ensure that your experience on the plane is safe. They are supposed to keep aisles clear, luggage bins closed, and maintain safety on board.
Michigan modified comparative fault rule
Michigan follows a rule for personal injury lawsuits that says that if the plaintiff (injured person) has 50% or more of the liability for their injury, they cannot recover damages.
For example, if you fell over luggage in your seat area while getting up to use the bathroom on the plane but you put it there, you would likely be more than 50% liable and would not recover costs for your injury.
Injuries to airport or airline employees
If you’re an airline or airport employee and you were injured at work, you may be able to file a claim for workers’ compensation benefits.
The benefit to workers’ compensation for employees is that you don’t have to prove negligence — only that the injury happened while you were performing tasks or duties related to your job, or that you were at work (that is, in your worksite) when the injury happened.
Your likelihood of being injured as an airline employee is different, depending on the nature of your job. A baggage handler might be more prone to repetitive motion injuries or stress injuries from lifting and bending, while a flight attendant might be more likely to trip over an item in the aisle and become injured.
When to contact a plane crash or aviation injury attorney
If you were injured or lost a loved one in a plane crash or other aviation accident, it’s important to seek the guidance of an experienced lawyer.
These cases are complex because of the potential number of defendants involved, and because you’re dealing with huge corporations with teams of lawyers and resources.