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How to recover damages following a plane crash or in-air mishap
We all know someone who is afraid to fly in an airplane. Maybe you are.
“Aviophobia” is an anxiety disorder marked by an intense and persistent fear of flying, which is disproportionate to the actual danger posed by flying.
Although an intense fear of flying may be unwarranted, plane crashes do happen occasionally. In this article, we’ll look at plane crashes, including the frequency with which they occur and the legal options available to survivors and the loved ones of passengers killed in plane crashes.
How common are plane crashes?
Plane crashes dominate the news headlines for days when they happen.
But how often do they actually occur?
The answer depends, in part, on which type of flight operation you’re talking about. Generally speaking, there are 2 types of flight operations:
- Commercial aviation refers to scheduled flights that involve the transportation of passengers or cargo. When you purchase a plane ticket from a commercial airline or order a product using “UPS Next Day Air Shipping,” the flight operation is considered commercial.
- General aviation refers to all non-scheduled flights. This category includes private aircraft, such as light-sport aircraft, turboprops, and rotorcraft.
Both flight operations are extremely safe, but general aviation accidents are much more common than commercial aviation accidents.
In 2020, there was 1 large commercial airplane crash every 3.7 million flights around the globe. What’s more, none of these accidents occurred in the United States.
The fatality rate for general aviation accidents, on the other hand, hovers just over 1 death per 100,000 hours—or, approximately 1,200 accidents and 200 fatal accidents every year in the U.S.
While this may sound like a lot, it pales in comparison to the 38,000 people who die every year in car crashes on U.S. roads and the additional 4.4 million people who are injured seriously enough to require medical attention.
To put all of this in perspective:
Your risk of being killed in a plane crash is 1 in 11 million. Your risk of being killed in a motor vehicle crash is 1 in 5,000.
Common causes of plane crashes
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigates most commercial and general aviation crashes.
According to the NTSB, the most common causes of commercial aviation accidents include:
- Pilot error
- Poor maintenance
- Air traffic control error
The most common causes of general aviation accidents include:
- In-flight loss of control
- System component failure
- Poor weather conditions
- Mid-air collisions
- Low-altitude operations
More specifically, the pilots were looking outside the cockpit for visual cues as to the location of the airport and failed to realize how low they had descended below the minimum descent altitude. Additionally, evidence indicated that the pilots were fatigued and failed to make standard callouts.
The crash killed both pilots and 11 of the 13 passengers aboard the plane.
Potential legal claims following a plane crash in Missouri
When a plane crash or in-flight accident occurs, the are 3 common types of lawsuits that you may be able to file in order to recover damages:
- Product liability
- Federal tort
Let’s take a look at all 3 types of lawsuits.
Airline employees aren’t expected to guarantee a passenger’s safety. However, the law requires them to exercise the utmost care to prevent foreseeable injuries to passengers. If they fail to do so, they may be negligent and responsible for any damages that result.
Examples of actions or inactions that may be considered negligent include:
- A flight attendant’s failure to secure overhead luggage
- A mechanic’s failure to inspect a plane before takeoff
- A pilot’s failure to heed warning signs
- A pilot flying while intoxicated
A product liability lawsuit alleges that a defective product caused the plane crash or in-flight injury. A product liability lawsuit may be based on any of the following defects:
- Design defect. A product that is inherently dangerous even when manufactured and used properly is defectively designed.
- Manufacturing defect. A product that would have been safe but for some error that occurred during the manufacturing process has a manufacturing defect.
- Marketing defect. A product that doesn’t have proper warnings or instructions is an example of a marketing defect.
During the trial, the plaintiffs’ attorney presented evidence that the manufacturer, Doncasters Inc., failed to use the correct material in a compressor turbine blade and hid documentation showing that the compressor turbine failed testing.
The 5 victims were skydivers, and the oldest was 44 years old.
The Federal Aviation Agency (FAA) is responsible for directing and guiding pilots through international and domestic airspace. If an FAA employee fails to perform their duties properly, the federal government may be liable for any resulting injuries or deaths.
When suing the federal government, plaintiffs must do so under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FCTA). The FCTA requires plaintiffs to follow special rules and procedures, so we encourage plaintiffs to consult with an attorney in your area who specializes in these complex cases.
Workers’ compensation for airline employee injuries
Workers’ compensation is a form of insurance that provides financial benefits to employees who are injured on the job.
Importantly, workers’ compensation is an exclusive remedy. This means that if you’re injured in a plane crash while on the job (for example, you’re a pilot or flight attendant), then you must file a workers’ compensation claim in lieu of a personal injury lawsuit in most cases.
Common aviation injuries
Aviation-related injuries result in approximately 1,000 hospitalizations each year in the U.S., with an in-hospital mortality rate of 2%.
According to a study published in the journal Aviation, Space, and Environmental Medicine, the most common injuries sustained by plane crash survivors are as follows:
- Low-limb fractures (27%)
- Head injuries (11%)
- Open wounds (10%)
- Upper extremity fractures (9%)
- Internal injuries (9%)
Plane crashes and wrongful death lawsuits
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) places the survivability rate of a commercial flight at roughly 96%. However, not everyone makes it out of a plane crash alive.
If your loved one was killed in a plane crash, you may be able to recover damages by filing a wrongful death lawsuit.
A wrongful death claim is similar to a personal injury lawsuit in the sense that the surviving family member will need to prove that the defendant was liable for the accident (just as the passenger would have had to prove had they survived).
The difference is that, if the claim is successful, the family member will receive compensation for the loss of the passenger in the form of:
- Reasonable medical expenses
- Funeral and burial expenses
- Damages for the loss of the passenger’s companionship
In Missouri, the deceased’s surviving spouse and lineal family members (children and parents) are allowed to file wrongful death lawsuits.
The Aviation Disaster Family Assistance Act of 1996
The purpose of the Aviation Disaster Family Assistance Act is to provide support to families of passengers involved in commercial aviation accidents.
Under the Act, the NTSB must carry out a number of duties following a plane crash. For example, the NTSB must:
- Provide family members with the name and number of the director of family support services who will be the primary point of contact within the federal government.
- Designate an independent nonprofit organization to coordinate mental health services for the passengers’ families.
- Contact families of victims and meet with family members who traveled to the crash location, as well as provide travel assistance and physical care while there.
- Coordinate with family members to arrange memorial services.
- Ensure that the airline has a staff to handle calls, provide information, and answer questions from family members.
- Create a meeting place (usually a hotel or conference center) for crash survivors, family members, and friends to gather and receive updates.
Statute of limitations for aviation accidents in Missouri
The legal term “statute of limitations” refers to the amount of time a plaintiff is permitted to file a personal injury lawsuit before the claim is forever barred.
In Missouri, plaintiffs have 5 years from the date of the injury to file a personal injury lawsuit in most cases. However, wrongful death actions have a 3-year statute of limitations.
Ready to talk to an attorney about a potential plane crash lawsuit? You can find an experienced Missouri personal injury attorney near you using our free legal directory.
See our guide Choosing a personal injury attorney.