airline accident lawyer

Passengers injured by the negligent operation of an airplane can recover damages in most cases. Recoverable damages could include medical bills, wage loss, pain and suffering, and more.

However, attempting to pursue a personal injury claim independently can be complicated.

You should consider hiring a skilled San Francisco aviation accident attorney who can help.

The most dramatic accident scenario is the airliner crash, but many people are injured by other more mundane aspects of airline travel, such as shifting luggage, unsafe ramps or seats, or employee conduct causing injury.

Many aviation accident cases involve multiple causes of action too, such as pilot error, weather issues, manufacturing defects, faulty maintenance, incorrect information from the air traffic controller station, and more.

Investigating an Aviation Accident

Investigating and determining the potential accident cause is crucial.

You need an aviation accident attorney with the knowledge and skills necessary to investigate your accident fully.

Your attorney should be able to determine all potential defendants, such as:

  • Pilots,
  • Airlines,
  • Airplane mechanics,
  • Air traffic controllers,
  • Charter companies,
  • Manufacturers, and
  • Contractors.

Both federal and state laws may apply. The attorney you hire needs to understand all applicable laws and which defendants should be held responsible under each law.

Aviation accidents typically involve working with federal agencies such as the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Caltrans, and even the Division of Aeronautics.

Not all personal injury lawyers have the skills and experience to handle an aviation accident claim properly.

These cases typically require several different types of experts in areas such as aviation safety, medicine, vocational rehabilitation, and economics.

Our airplane accident attorney, Chuck Geerhart, has extensive experience in this area and knows which experts to retain on your behalf to prepare the case for maximum settlement or a successful jury trial.

The law is different for international travel, and it is actually easier to prove liability for injury occurring on an international flight.

We obtained a multi-million-dollar recovery in a case involving denial of urgent medical care to a passenger who suffered a stroke on an international flight.

Recent Case Settlement

A Sudden Stroke Over the Pacific– and a Career-Defining Case

In 2006, a 67-year-old man flying with his wife from San Francisco to China on a major international carrier suddenly began to exhibit strange symptoms. His speech was slurred. He vomited. He urinated in the aisle of the airplane. His wife knew something was terribly wrong. Language barriers with the flight crew made the problem even worse.

The airline’s own medical emergency protocols were first to see if there was a doctor on board. There was not—only a student studying to be a physician assistant. The second option was to call a doctor on land. But it was late at night, and there was no one to call. The third option was to fly to the nearest airport and seek medical help. That would mean landing at Anchorage, Alaska, which was 1.5 hours away.

Instead, the airline decided to fly another eight hours to the overseas destination. By the time they landed, the man was essentially brain dead.

The man was eventually diagnosed with a stroke (intracerebral hemorrhage, or ICH). He was lying on life support at Seton hospital, with no hope of ever living a meaningful life. When his family (wife and three sons) came to see me, I did not know anything about how the law handled medical emergencies on international flights. But I did know that I needed to help this grieving family and their horribly injured patriarch.

I paid $800 to buy the leading legal treatise on aviation law. I talked to other lawyers. I soon learned that the Montreal and Warsaw Conventions govern “accidents” in international aviation. An “accident” is any unusual or unexpected occurrence during the flight. This very loose standard covers almost everything that can go wrong on a flight, from shifting bags to medical emergencies. I filed suit in Federal Court in San Francisco. The airline lawyered up. The main bone of contention was not whether the airline was liable, but whether the airline could have done anything to improve the passenger’s outcome–i.e., even if they had diverted to Anchorage, would it have made any difference?

The airline hired a reputable neurology expert from UCSF who said the passenger was a goner from the minute the stroke hit. However, this esteemed expert’s report was flawed–he cited a scholarly article that even a layperson could see was not applicable. I retained a neurosurgeon who said that if the plane had landed in Anchorage (which had an excellent stroke unit), the passenger would have some mobility and speech function even after such a severe stroke.

Along the way, I took depositions of the pilots and the entire flight crew. The most significant deposition was of the passenger studying to be a physician’s assistant. I had to hire an investigator to locate him. He initially resisted being served with a subpoena until I threatened to report his non-cooperation to the physician assistant licensing board. In the deposition, he admitted he had no expertise or education in strokes. And he said he told the airline he did not know what was happening to the patient. This testimony conflicted with the official log entry that said he told the crew just to let him rest.

  I retained life-care planning experts who opined that it would cost about $5 million to treat the patient over his expected lifetime. I consulted with five medical experts to bolster our medical causation case. My total expert costs were about $55,000, all advanced for the client. This was more than I had ever spent on a case.

As the trial approached, we went to mediation in an effort to settle the case. The first session failed, but about two months later, we reached a confidential settlement for $4.15 million. This settlement was a compromise, based on the uncertainty over whether a jury would believe their expert or ours about whether the airline caused the stroke to get worse by flying an additional eight hours.

The passenger died a few years after the settlement, but his family was provided for well into the future.

This case was career-defining because it showed I can tackle a major case in a new (to me) area of personal injury law. It turned out that the biggest issue was medical causation–the airline essentially rolled over on liability. This case was, at the time, the largest settlement I had ever negotiated. There was a lot of pressure to do it right. But even more gratifying than the size of the settlement was the feeling of helping this family, shattered by tragedy, get the justice they deserved.

Statute of Limitations in an Airplane Accident

Like other types of personal injury accidents, there is a statute of limitations that you need to be aware of in an aviation accident.

In most cases, you have two years from the date of damage or injury occurred. With claims arising from a plane crash, figuring out the date is pretty straightforward.

However, missing the deadline means your claim could be barred entirely.

Even if you are in the midst of negotiations with the at-fault party when the deadline passes, the defendants are under no obligation to continue negotiations unless you can show that you filed a lawsuit in time.

Don’t risk your potential compensation by not working with an airplane crash attorney.  

Wrongful Death and Aviation Accidents

Injuries in an aviation accident may be severe or life-threatening. In many cases, injuries may be fatal.

If someone you love passed away from injuries sustained in an aviation-related accident, certain family members may have the right to bring a wrongful death claim against the responsible parties.

Under California law, only the following family members have the right to bring a wrongful death lawsuit in California:

  • Surviving spouse;
  • Domestic partner;
  • Surviving children;
  • Grandchildren (provided the victim’s children are also deceased);
  • Other minor children who were dependent on the victim for a minimum of 50% of their financial support; and
  • Any other parties who have a potential claim on the deceased’s property under the intestate succession laws in California.

Damages in a wrongful death claim compensate the surviving family members. This compensation is not for the deceased’s damages.

Examples of possible damages in an aviation-related wrongful death lawsuit could include:

  • Funeral and burial expenses;
  • Financial support the deceased would have contributed to their family;
  • Loss of benefits and gifts that surviving family members would’ve received;
  • The reasonable value of the deceased’s household services they provided;
  • Loss of consortium; and
  • Loss of companionship, protection, and more.

Wrongful death claims can be complicated to pursue, and they can be much more challenging when the claim arises from an aviation accident.

It’s crucial to choose an attorney who has experience with wrongful death claims and aviation accident cases.

Contact a San Francisco Aviation Accident Attorney

Don’t trust just any attorney with a specialized legal matter like an aviation accident.

Let a professional and knowledgeable aviation accident attorney assist you.

At the Law Office of Chuck Geerhart, we understand the nuances of aviation accidents and how best to proceed to help you get the compensation you are owed.  

Please call us at (415) 577-4992 or write to us using the form to the right if you would like to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation with attorney Chuck Geerhart.

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  • A friend recommended Chuck Geerhart. It was an excellent recommendation.

    As a British journalist, recently based in San Francisco and without medical insurance, things seemed pretty messy after I found myself in an airport shuttle, driven by a lunatic, who struck a parked cab. I had to go to hospital, who diagnosed a head injury – as, later, did a neurologist – but the shuttle company’s insurance company continually balked at paying the bills.

    A friend recommended Chuck Geerhart. It was an excellent recommendation. He was a great lawyer to have on my side, persistent in his battles with the insurance company, supportive of his client and a pleasure to work with, resolving the claim with the minimum of fuss.

  • Chuck made sure I was fairly compensated for this life altering injury.

    I was working as an air traffic controller at SFO when a notoriously faulty elevator slammed to a stop between floors, throwing me against the wall and rupturing discs in my neck. I had to have major surgery on my neck. The City and the elevator maintenance company denied liability, until Chuck Geerhart obtained copies of all prior repair records which showed the elevator was continually resetting due to a power supply issue.

    During the discovery phase of the case, to protect my privacy rights, he filed a motion with court to block a subpoena issued by the defense that sought to obtain my complete confidential employment file and complete health history in violation of the law. We ultimately settled the case for $1,000,000 after mediation.

    I feel that Chuck did a great job making sure I was fairly compensated for this life-altering injury.

  • Chuck Geerhart dealt with my case in the most humane way I could imagine.

    I was fortunate to have been referred to Chuck Geerhart when I was dealing with a very painful and tragic case of abuse by religious leadership, which was stretched over five years.
    Chuck Geerhart dealt with my case in the most humane way I could imagine. He was intelligent and strategic in his approach, always very communicative; an attentive ear, fearless and confident support for someone who was very confused and seeking answers where there were only walls. He always involved me in the process, sharing crucial information with me and allowing me the time and space to decide and move forward. He treated me like a partner, which helped me recover the power that was taken away from me.
    At the same time he provided the professional expertise which I needed in order to win the case. The process of winning this case was as empowering as the actual outcome. It was a healing experience in itself. I am very happy with the support and guidance I got from Chuck as well as with the monetary result from such a serious injury. It has truly helped me move on in a good way.