Commercial air travel is widely acknowledged as one of the safest modes of transportation, with few fatalities resulting from plane crashes in most years. But no method of travel is completely risk-free, and even a single plane crash can inflict severe injuries or claim numerous lives.
Besides plane crashes, many passengers also experience in-flight injuries due to hazards on the plane, such as luggage falling from an overhead bin.
How Can an Aviation Accident Attorney Help?
If you or a loved one have experienced a plane crash or in-flight injury, you may need assistance with your medical bills, lost income, and other damages, but getting the responsible party to pay a fair settlement is often challenging.
Once an insurance company gets involved, your chances of recovering all your damages are further reduced. In some cases, even identifying the responsible party can be difficult, but an aviation accident lawyer can help to single out all liable parties and seek total compensation for your injuries.
What Caused the Plane Crash?
This is a pivotal question, and it may take some time for your legal team to find answers. The National Transporation Safety Board (NTSB) will, of course, conduct an investigation after any civil aviation accident that occurs in the US or that involves a US-registered aircraft.
They typically complete an investigation in 12-24 months after rigorously searching for and examining evidence (such as wreckage from the crash). However, they will usually release an initial report within a few weeks of the accident and then create a final report after the investigation is concluded.
That doesn’t mean you should wait until the NTSB is finished with an investigation to speak with an aviation accident lawyer. Your attorney and their investigative team may also look into other aspects of the accident, such as researching incidents involving the same aircraft or airline to determine if there is a pattern of negligence.
Here are some common causes of aviation accidents:
Assuming the controls of an aircraft is a heavy responsibility, where even the slightest error could have disastrous consequences. As a result, it falls upon airlines to ensure their pilots undergo adequate training, pass comprehensive background checks, get enough rest, and take part in regular screenings for drug or alcohol usage.
When airlines take shortcuts with these crucial safety measures, pressuring fatigued pilots to fly or neglecting thorough screening procedures, they may be negligent in their actions.
Air Traffic Control
Back on the ground, air traffic controllers also have a critical role – in fact, their jobs may be even more complicated in some ways. While a pilot is responsible for taking off and landing one plane safely, air traffic controllers must clear the way for multiple planes to take off and land safely at each airport.
As with pilots, it’s essential that air traffic controllers pass background checks and drug screenings, receive appropriate rest periods, and have satisfactory training. If an air traffic controller makes a mistake, it could lead to an in-air collision or one on the ground.
Air traffic controllers are employed not by airlines or other private enterprises but by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Suing the government poses significant challenges due to sovereign immunity, which protects the government from being sued without its consent.
However, there is a law called the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) that allows for lawsuits against the FAA if an air traffic controller’s error leads to a plane crash. Pursuing such a lawsuit requires the expertise of a seasoned aviation attorney with a comprehensive understanding of the FTCA.
Aircraft Maintenance or the Lack Thereof
If you put off replacing the worn tires on your car, you could have a blowout that leads to a serious or even fatal car accident.
But if an airline fails to keep up with regular maintenance on its planes, this decision could lead to a severe or fatal accident involving hundreds of unsuspecting passengers. As a means of avoiding these potentially deadly consequences, strict government regulations dictate the maintenance and inspection protocols for airplanes.
In the event that an airplane mechanic makes an error during repairs or inspections, their employer (an airline or a third-party service company) may be held liable for any resulting injuries. Airlines also bear responsibility if they fail to conduct necessary inspections or neglect to request maintenance when needed.
Establishing a direct link between a mechanical failure and a plane crash is necessary for a lawsuit but can be challenging. Often, the faulty repair might be obliterated in the crash itself, leaving little evidence behind.
In these cases, your attorney will meticulously analyze all available evidence, including recovered wreckage, airline and mechanic documents, witness testimonies, and data from the plane’s “black box” or event data recorder. This thorough examination may potentially uncover evidence of a mechanic’s error or the airline’s deviation from an appropriate maintenance schedule.
Design or Manufacturing Defects
Sometimes, everyone involved in the flight does their job correctly, but a plane crash still occurs. These cases are often due to a defect in design or manufacturing, which could be the fault of the plane manufacturer or a component manufacturer.
Design defects involve an inherent problem in the plane’s structure, hardware, or software. A recent example would be the case of the Boeing 737 MAX airplanes, two of which crashed in Indonesia and Ethiopia, killing everyone on board.
An investigation revealed that a software flaw caused both planes to nosedive in response to faulty sensor data. Although the problem first came to light during a test flight simulation in 2012, Boeing worked to hide the problem instead of addressing it.
Only after the second crash did the FAA ground the 737 MAX, and Boeing finally fixed the software issue. They also agreed to a $2.5 billion settlement. After confirming the software issue was corrected, the FAA cleared the 737 MAX planes to return to service.
Manufacturing defects stem from a problem in the production process – the design itself is sound, but something goes wrong when the plane or a component is produced. Sometimes, plane crashes are attributed to the failure of a small component, which may be made by the plane manufacturer or another party.
No one can control the weather, but we can control how we react to it. It’s helpful to keep in mind that even when weather is the official cause of a plane crash, human error or negligence may also have contributed.
For example, sometimes, plane crashes happen because the air traffic controller allowed a plane to take off in weather conditions that should have grounded it. Or, a pilot may fail to respond appropriately to a change in weather, leading to the crash.
Your aviation accident attorney will carefully study all factors that led to a crash in poor weather conditions.
It’s easy to think that if the plane manages to land safely, the risk of an accident is over. However, we see many cases where people are injured on the runway.
In some situations, the runway design is problematic, and planes don’t always have enough room to come to a complete stop, leading to collisions. Or, the runways are designed to be a tight fit for some planes, making it exceedingly difficult for even a highly skilled pilot to avoid colliding with buildings or other planes.
Other accidents occur if people or vehicles are on the runway when they shouldn’t be. Air traffic control may also be negligent in some of these incidents if they fail to keep track of planes on the ground.
What Are In-Flight Injuries?
These are injuries that occur during a flight but are not related to a plane crash. In some cases, a passenger may suffer serious injuries, resulting in medical bills, lost income, and other damages.
Here are some of the different types of in-flight injuries:
- Falling luggage from overhead bins. Flight attendants are trained to check the overhead bins and ensure they’re closed securely before takeoff to prevent these situations. If a staff member fails to do this job or isn’t thorough enough, a bin could pop open, allowing luggage to spill out, especially during takeoff or episodes of turbulence. In a few cases, a defective bin door may also be at fault. Passengers have suffered head injuries, lacerations, and other injuries as a result of these incidents.
- Drink and food cart injuries. These carts are usually rolled out once the plane is in the air and traveling at a relatively steady altitude, but turbulence – irregular motion due to air currents – can strike at any time. For this reason, flight attendants are supposed to lock down carts that aren’t in motion. If this step is overlooked, a cart can quickly roll away and crash into a passenger. Arm or shoulder injury is the most common consequence of a runaway cart.
- Slip/trip and fall injuries. Most commercial airplanes are carpeted, and spilled drinks aren’t usually a problem as they would be on a hard floor. But sometimes injuries happen due to a passenger tripping on snagged or torn carpets or items left in the aisle. Premises liability injuries can also happen during boarding or deplaning if there is some sort of hazard on the stairs.
- Burns. Sometimes, passengers suffer burns due to overly hot coffee or food. Flight attendants are usually careful in distributing hot meals and drinks, but accidents happen, and sometimes, the food or beverage is too hot to serve.
- Lack of training for flight crew or improperly stocked supplies. If you think being a flight attendant is as simple as serving food and drinks, think again. When there’s an emergency during a flight, calling 911 and waiting for first responders simply isn’t an option. As a result, the flight crew should have training in first aid, responding to medical emergencies, and handling violent passenger encounters. But if some members of the flight staff don’t have appropriate training, a passenger’s medical emergency or an altercation between passengers can become more serious. Additionally, a lack of medical supplies can put passengers at risk even if crew members are fully trained – for example, if someone has a heart attack and there is no working defibrillator on board, the airline may have been negligent.
- Assaults. Dealing with belligerent or violent passengers on a plane presents unique challenges. In a restaurant or store, management can always ask an unruly patron to leave or have security escort them out if necessary, but this isn’t possible at 35,000 feet. Because of this problem, airlines have a responsibility to screen passengers before they board the plane. Aside from rigorous security screenings for possible weapons, people who are already intoxicated should not be allowed to board. If the airline allowed an intoxicated person on a plane and they later assaulted another passenger, the airline could be negligent. In other cases, the flight crew may fail to address a situation – such as a passenger complaining about another passenger’s threatening behavior – that later escalates into an assault.
If you suffered an in-flight injury, please speak with an aviation accident lawyer who can help you determine if the airline or another party was negligent.
Learn More About Your Aviation Accident Case From the Experts at The Fakhouri Firm
If you or a loved one have been injured in a plane crash, a runway incursion or other incident, or an in-flight injury situation, you may need help recovering your damages.
Even an incident as simple as a bag falling from a luggage compartment could leave you with chronic pain and recurrent medical bills, in addition to other damages like lost income, lost earning capacity, permanent disability, and more.
Founder and lead attorney Robert S. Fakhouri has recovered millions of dollars for injured clients. A graduate of the Chicago-Kent College of Law, he worked as a legal clerk and litigation associate before founding The Fakhouri Firm Accident and Injury Lawyers.
When he’s not fighting for clients in the courtroom or negotiating with insurance companies, you can find him discussing legal topics on social media.