Aviation accidents unfortunately happen. In 2015, there were 1,282 aviation accidents, with 406 fatalities. That was down slightly from 2014’s 1,290 accidents, but that year 444 people lost their lives.
When aviation accidents happen, they often change lives. If a person is seriously injured, they are faced with medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering – emotional turmoil that is a direct result of the accident.
If a person is killed, their loved ones suffer, not just emotionally but financially.
Even people who were indirectly affected by the accident can be emotionally harmed.
Not all aviation accidents are caused by negligence and recklessness, but many of them are, and the ones that aren’t can still be caused by a breakdown in communication, human error, improper procedures, faulty equipment, or a variety of other causes for which people may be responsible.
You have the right to hold those liable parties responsible for injuries or deaths sustained in an aviation accident. You also have rights afforded to you as a loved one – maybe a direct relative or a legal guardian – of someone who perished in an aviation accident.
Knowing your rights is the first step toward moving forward. Here’s what you need to know about aviation accidents.
Who’s to Blame?
There are many different causes of aviation accidents. As mentioned, they can range from negligent and reckless pilots to improper procedures (i.e. forcing pilots to fly too many hours without adequate rest), faulty equipment that breaks due to spotty maintenance, miscommunication, or simple human error.
One of the first challenges in a legal battle over compensation and justice is to figure out who is liable. There is a wide variety of parties who can be held accountable depending on their role in the accident. This list includes:
- The pilots
- The aircrew
- Maintenance personnel
- Air traffic controllers
- Airport administrators
- Civil aviation authorities
- The airline
- The manufacturer of the aircraft
- The owner of the aircraft
Investigation will be required to find out who is responsible. The National Traffic Safety Board (NTSB) performs investigations of all mass transportation accidents in the United States, often assisted by state and local authorities. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is responsible for maintaining regulations and overseeing the nation’s air traffic control system, and they assist in investigations as well.
Generally, we depend on the results of these investigations, although we can conduct our own investigations to get closer to the truth.
At the end of an investigation, you will have a better idea of who may be held liable for the accident. Keep in mind, though, that while you can sue any party, you have to be able to prove the accusation in order to recover damages from that party.
Taking Action: When and How to Find an Aviation Lawyer
The first step in taking action is getting treatment. While there are statutes of limitations on how long you have to file a lawsuit against a party – i.e. you only have a certain amount of time to decide to take legal action – this isn’t something you have to do right away. Get treated medically and take care of yourself and your family. That comes first.
Should you decide you want to pursue legal action, to pay for rising medical bills and lost compensation because you can’t work (or to seek damages from the death of a loved one), then you need to research aviation lawyers.
We recommend finding an attorney with whom you feel comfortable. Find an attorney who you can trust. The relationship between the attorney and the client – you – is the most important part.
If you can’t trust your attorney, and can’t depend on him or her communicating with you, then you will have a harder time seeing your case through to the end. And you’ll regret the relationship.
Finding an aviation lawyer who knows how to pursue this type of case is also important. Aviation accidents have a lot in common with motor vehicle accidents, but they’re also very unique. Your lawyer needs to understand those distinctions.
How Much Can You Recover?
When it comes to aviation accidents, there may be several things for which you can be compensated. These include:
- Medical treatment
- Physical therapy and rehabilitation services
- Counseling/psychological treatment
- Equipment necessary for ongoing treatment
- Lost wages
- Pain and suffering
- Emotional turmoil
- Burial expenses
- Property damage or loss
- Loss of support
Even those in the so-called “zone of danger” – an area in which a person was subjected to negligent infliction of emotional distress by being at risk of physical harm from an aviation accident – can sue.
There is no magic formula that explains just how much you’ll be able to recover. It varies from case to case, and there are a lot of things that need to be calculated.
We can give you a general idea of the compensatory damages you may be able to recover, and can estimate what kind of punitive damages – damages intended to punish the responsible party – we’d ask the court for in on your behalf. In the state of Alabama, punitive damages are capped at no more than three times the amount of compensatory damages (i.e. what you can get from lost wages, medical treatment, etc.), or, $1.5 million, whichever is greater.
If one of the parties in the lawsuit is a small business (defined by having a net worth of $2 million or less at the time of the accident), you’re limited to $50,000 or 10% of the business’s net worth, whichever is greater
Note that these limits do not apply for wrongful death cases. For cases in which you or a loved one die due to the negligent actions of someone else, there is no limit on punitive damages.
Talking to an aviation lawyer is the best way to get an idea of how much you can recover. Your lawyer should point out that anything can happen; judges and juries can decide anything, and it may be best to settle out of court for a smaller amount.
Getting Justice for Your Aviation Accident
Aviation accidents are frightening and emotionally disturbing. They can wreak havoc on us not just physically, but psychologically. They can disrupt our daily lives. And they can cause great loss to us and our loved ones.
In the event of an aviation accident, you’ll need someone to be on your side at some point in the process. Talk to an aviation lawyer today who understands how to handle a unique case like yours and can be trusted.