Commercial flight is considered one of the safest ways to travel. Most years, there are few or no fatalities from aviation accidents. But even one plane crash can leave multiple people injured or dead.
It’s also important to note that many people suffer in-flight injuries on planes that have nothing to do with a plane crash. If you or someone you love has been injured or died in a plane crash, you may wonder who is responsible and how to get help with your damages.
How Can an Illinois Aviation Accident Attorney Help?
Determining the cause of an aviation accident can be a complicated process, made more challenging by the airline and their legal representatives, who will no doubt be working round-the-clock to protect the airline’s interests.
At the same time, evidence may be difficult to collect and interpret in some situations. You need an experienced aviation accident attorney to fight for your right to compensation for damages suffered in the accident.
What Causes Airplane Crashes or Other Aviation Accidents?
There is a long list of potential causes for a plane crash or aviation accident, but here are some of the more common situations we see:
Flying a plane is a serious responsibility, and it only takes one small mistake to bring a plane down. For this reason, airlines have a responsibility to ensure pilots are appropriately trained, background-checked, well-rested, and routinely screened for drug or alcohol abuse.
If the airline cuts corners and forces a pilot to fly when they are too tired or fails to screen the pilot properly, then the airline may have been negligent.
Often, flights are delayed or canceled due to dangerous weather, but sometimes pilots are instructed to take off in weather conditions that quickly get worse and pose a problem. In other cases, the plane may unexpectedly hit bad weather in mid-flight, such as when a storm changes course and heads in a different direction than expected.
Bad weather can’t always be predicted, but in some instances, an air traffic controller may have made a bad call regarding takeoff.
Air Traffic Control
Failing to anticipate poor weather conditions is not the only way an air traffic controller can make a serious mistake on the job. If the air traffic controller is not following protocol or paying attention, they could give instructions that lead to an in-air collision between planes or an accident on the ground.
Air traffic controllers work for the Federal Aviation Administration or FAA. In general, it is very difficult to sue the government due to sovereign immunity (the government can’t be sued without its consent).
However, the Federal Tort Claims Act allows lawsuits against the FAA if an air traffic controller’s mistake leads to a plane crash. Still, you will need an experienced aviation attorney who understands the many complex rules regarding such lawsuits.
Mistakes in Aircraft Maintenance or Lack of Maintenance
Because a mechanical problem on an airplane could be deadly, the government sets out strict regulations about maintaining and inspecting an aircraft. If an airplane mechanic made a mistake in repairing or checking a component, they could be at fault.
Or, if the airline fails to have inspections as often as necessary or to request maintenance when needed, then the airline might be responsible.
However, it can be challenging to prove a mechanical failure led to a plane crash. Often, the failed component has been destroyed in the crash itself, making it hard to find evidence.
Your attorney will carefully examine all available evidence – not just recovered wreckage from the crash, but documents from the airline and mechanics, witness interviews, black box data if available, etc.
In some cases, it may be possible to demonstrate that the mechanic made an error or the airline did not use a proper maintenance schedule.
Design Defects in the Airplane
Sometimes, an airplane has a defect right from the start. This could be due to a manufacturing error, but in many cases, the design itself is flawed in some way that puts the plane at risk.
One recent example would be the Boeing 737 MAX plane, which was involved in two fatal airplane crashes in 2018 and 2019. After the first crash, Boeing identified a possible flaw in its MCAS software (which was intended to make the plane safer), began attempting to fix it, and, in the meantime, put out an advisory for pilots on how to handle an incorrect activation of the MCAS system.
Sadly, this advice did not help when Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 took a sharp nosedive only a few minutes into the flight in response to faulty sensor data that activated the MCAS system. Black box data shows the first officer responded correctly and shut down the system, then tried to manually pull the plane out of its nosedive.
Unfortunately, the plane was going too fast, and nothing could be done at that point. The crash killed 152 people.
Boeing faced criminal charges from the US government, which it eventually resolved by agreeing to a settlement of $2.5 billion to compensate the victims’ families and the airlines.
Investigating a Plane Crash
This is a lengthy process, as it may take weeks or months for the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) to fully investigate, recover as much evidence as they can, and put out a report on the cause of the crash.
But remember that determining the cause is not the same as deciding liability for the crash – a skilled aviation lawyer will use the NTSB’s reports and other documents to identify potentially liable parties.
They will then seek additional information, such as records from the companies involved or witness accounts, to build a case against those responsible.
Damages in a Plane Crash
Once we have an idea of who the liable party or parties are, we will work on determining your damages or the losses you suffered due to the aviation accident. These include:
- Medical bills. Injuries in a plane crash can be severe. Many people suffer multiple broken bones, internal injuries, traumatic brain injury or TBI, spine or back injuries, burns, PTSD or other mental health issues, and more. Even with health insurance, it’s not uncommon for hospital bills to reach six figures or more, and some patients will need continued care for the rest of their lives. We’ll work to ensure you receive compensation for both your current and future healthcare costs.
- Lost income or earning potential. You can also seek compensation for any time you could not work because of your injuries. For many plane crash victims, this can be months or longer. Others may become permanently unable to work, and we will pursue lost earning potential based on our estimates of what they might have earned otherwise.
- Permanent disability or disfigurement. Due to the serious nature of many plane crash injuries, permanent disability or scarring is also common. Even if your ability to work is unaffected, these permanent injuries can still affect your quality of life.
- Pain and suffering. Your physical pain and emotional or mental distress can also be substantial following a plane crash.
- Wrongful death. Although fatal accidents in aviation don’t happen frequently, when they do occur, they often result in the death of everyone or almost everyone on board. If you’ve lost a loved one in a plane crash, you may have multiple damages, including final medical bills, funeral or burial costs, loss of financial support, and loss of consortium or companionship.
Can an Illinois Aviation Accident Attorney Help With Other Types of Aviation Damages?
Yes. Although less common, we sometimes handle cases involving hydrofoils, hot air balloons, parachuting, and other types of aviation.
People who take part in these activities are usually asked to sign a waiver and may believe that they have no case in such situations. But it’s important to remember that a waiver refers to the normal risks of an activity – it does not give the company permission to be negligent or put customers at risk.
If you were given faulty equipment or taken out in unsafe weather conditions, you might still have a case against another party.
A plane doesn’t have to crash for a passenger to be injured. There are multiple ways you can be hurt on a plane that takes off and lands safely:
- Falling luggage. There’s a reason that flight attendants check the luggage compartments before the plane takes off. If even one of those doors doesn’t close securely, a heavy bag or other luggage could fall and strike a passenger during the flight, especially if the plane encounters turbulence (irregular air currents). But if the flight crew fails to check the compartments or misses something, you could be hit by a falling item. In some situations, the flight attendant did their job correctly, but a faulty latch may have caused the problem. When this happens, the component manufacturer could be responsible.
- Runaway drink carts. It almost sounds like something you’d see in a sitcom, but it’s no laughing matter if an unsecured drink or snack cart crashes into you. One common situation is a cart hitting a passenger in an aisle seat, usually striking their arm, shoulder, foot, or leg. In some cases, passengers suffer broken bones or torn ligaments. The carts are designed to be locked in place, so if one “takes off” on its own, there is often an issue of negligence on the airline’s part.
- Improper response to medical emergencies. When you have a large crowd gathered together, the odds of someone having a medical emergency are higher. Of course, it isn’t the airline’s fault if a passenger suffers a heart attack or stroke, but they do have a responsibility to prepare for this possibility. Flight crew members receive training to manage medical emergencies like cardiac arrest, blood sugar problems in diabetics, choking, wounds, and other difficulties that may arise. Planes are also required to carry medical equipment. If someone suffers a medical emergency and the medical kit isn’t fully stocked, a defibrillator isn’t available, or staff members are not as well-trained as they should be, it’s possible the airline may have been negligent.
- Tripping, slipping, and falling. Flight crew members work hard to keep the walkways relatively clear so passengers can move around the cabin when the “Fasten Seatbelts” sign is off. However, if the airline neglects to address a hazard, like a torn or snagged carpet, they may be negligent. In some cases, passengers may also trip and fall while getting on or off the plane.
- Interactions with other passengers. If another passenger becomes belligerent, starts making threats, or hits you, the flight crew has a responsibility to intervene. In an effort to prevent problems, the airline is also required by law to stop anyone who seems to be intoxicated from boarding. When these protocols aren’t followed, the airline could be responsible for another passenger’s injuries.
With in-flight injury cases, it’s important to show that you followed instructions and were injured due to the airline’s or another party’s negligence. If you were walking around the aisles after the “Fasten Seatbelts” sign came on, it would be difficult to argue that the airline was negligent – they warned you to sit down.
But if you were sitting in your seat and a falling bag hit you anyway, you could make a case that the airline or another party was at fault. Your lawyer can assist you by gathering evidence to show what happened.
Get Help From An Illinois Aviation Accident Law Firm
The Fakhouri Firm Accident and Injury Lawyers represents people injured in an aviation accident or in-flight incident. If you or a loved one have been injured in any aviation accident, please contact us online or call us at (312) 999-9990 for a free consultation to learn your options.
If we take your case, we’ll work to recover all the compensation you deserve for your injuries.
Robert S. Fakhouri is the founder and leading attorney at The Fakhouri Firm. He graduated from the Chicago-Kent College of Law and worked as a law clerk and litigation associate before starting his firm at 25.
When he’s not fighting for his clients in court or negotiating with insurance companies, you can find him discussing legal topics on social media.