You are more likely to die from choking on a breadstick than you are to crash in a plane.
Think about it: A huge metal tube is defying the laws of God and man, lurching into the sky and being held aloft for hours because engineers built it to withstand enormous pressure, severe weather and the weight of hundreds of pounds of equipment. And yet there it goes, soaring through the air to its destination.
(By the way, they're not actually called "plane crashes" by the Federal Aviation Administration – they're called "aviation accidents." The more you know!)
How likely are you to crash in a plane? Well, in according to the National Transportation Safety Board, in 2014 there were 1,290 airline accidents – this included commercial airlines to tiny private planes, mind you – and 265 involved fatalities. The number of people who died from choking that year: 4,600.
Last year, while more than 3 billion people flew safely on 36.4 million flights, there were 81 aviation accidents, according to the International Air Transport Association (Iata). That was below the five-year average of 86 accidents per year. (Iata says that for western-built jet aircraft, there were 0.41 "hull loss" accidents per million flights in 2013, equivalent to one such accident per 2.4m flights; a "hull loss" is an accident in which the aircraft is destroyed or substantially damaged and not subsequently repaired).
Only 20% of the 81 accidents recorded by Iata last year caused fatalities; there were 210 fatalities from commercial aviation accidents in 2013, a reduction from the 414 people who lost their lives in 2012 – despite there being a record low of 75 accidents that year.
There were 490 deaths in 2011 and a total of 92 accidents. There was a much higher figure of 786 fatalities in 2010, and 94 accidents. In 2009, there were 685 fatalities and 90 accidents.
This year's high-profile disasters have put the number of fatalities for 2014 at above 700 – indicating that this is a particularly bad year for air crashes.
Over the course of the year, there were seven fatal aircraft incidents, which resulted in 271 deaths – a number which is down on previous years.
International aviation firm To70 found that fatal accidents occurred in just 0.18 per million flights, which equates to around one in every five million flights.
This scientific view of risk compares the probability you will crash to other reasons you may die:
Despite the relative safety of this type of travel, accidents do still happen. And when they do it's big.
Figuring out exactly what caused a plane or helicopter to crash is very, very difficult to do and can take a long time. Years, in fact.
Federal Aviation Administration investigators might have to coordinate with foreign officials to extract the "black box," which is a recording unit that has a crash-survivable solid-state memory unit. (They used to have magnetic tape but have since been upgraded with new technology.)
These can survive in drastic environments for quite a long time, preserving the imperative moments right before a crash so that investigators can learn what happened in the cockpit and prevent it from happening again.
Airplane crashes can happen for any number of reasons:
While these are not the only legal claims that could be raised in an aviation accident, these are the most obvious:
The airline can respond with typical personal injury or products liability defenses.
However, operators of smaller aircrafts (meaning those for private use) can try an additional defense. The General Aviation Revitalization Act of 1994 bars lawsuits against the manufacturers of small private airplanes if the incident involved an aircraft or part that has been in use for 18 years or more.
When we say "small" aircraft, that means fewer than 20 seats, so this is a very narrow defense.
There used to be a convergence of attorneys toward the scene of airplane crashes, which was nothing short of tacky and hideous.
This meant that whenever a plane crashed, you could bet that an attorney would be on the horn to the victim's family, offering his services. Limits on attorney solicitation have been enforced by creating the Aviation Disaster Family Assistance Act of 1996. This quashed the surge of business cards, phone calls and lawyers actually showing up to funerals in the early ‘90s.
The Act also did a number of other great things for the families of aviation incident victims. It required the federal government to support the families by placing duties on the airlines and the National Transportation Safety Board to provide the following:
The airline was also responsible for establishing a toll-free telephone line for the families, providing a list of all passengers on the flight in question, informing families of the death of family members, and assisting the families with travel to/room & board at the location of the accident.
Finding an attorney who is well versed in aviation law is difficult because it is quite the niche in personal injury law. If you are in need of one, consider speaking with someone in the Enjuris law firm directory – they will be able to point you in the right direction.