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What Are Air and Airline Accidents and What Causes Them?

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Chuck Geerhart

While automobile accidents are far more common, many people avoid flying for fear of air accidents by the airline.

Unlike auto accidents, when a major airplane accident occurs, the outcome is typically grave for passengers.

Victims, or the families of anyone who dies, may file a claim against the airline. In some cases, it might also be necessary to sue the aircraft owner or manufacturer.

What Are Common Causes of Commercial Airline Accidents? 

A primary matter in airplane accident litigation is determining what caused the crash. Common causes of airplane accidents include defective construction or design, faulty repair or maintenance, mistakes by air traffic controllers, negligent hiring and supervision, and pilot error.

How Do You Hold an Airline or Aircraft Owner Liable in an Airline Accident?

Airlines are common carriers. A common carrier is a company that holds itself out to the public as willing to carry all passengers for hire.

In the event of an accident, liability may arise because of this status. Liability may also arise out of the airline’s contract with its passengers, or from any express or implied warranty regarding the safety of the aircraft.

Negligence

Common carriers have a duty of care to their passengers. As a common carrier, the law imposes this same duty on airlines. When airlines breach their duty of care and said breach causes an accident, airlines are liable for the resulting harm.

While most courts hold an airline to a high degree of care, it is important to note that airlines are not considered to be insurers of passenger safety. Rather, airlines are only responsible for acts of negligence.

Negligent Entrustment

A claim for negligent entrustment focuses on an airplane owner’s decision to lease its plane to the airline. It may also encompass an airplane lessor’s failure to adequately monitor the aircraft’s operations after the lease takes effect.

Negligent entrustment requires a plaintiff to establish: 

(1) that the owner of the aircraft entrusted it to an operator it knew or had reason to know was incompetent or unfit; and 

(2) that the aircraft operator’s incompetency was a proximate cause of the accident.

Next, let’s look at negligent bailment.

Negligent Bailment

Negligent entrustment lawsuits focus on the lessor’s negligence in providing its airplane to an unfit operator. In comparison, negligent bailment lawsuits focus on the lessor’s negligence in providing a defective airplane to the operator.

This is somewhat akin to product liability lawsuits—except here, the aircraft lessor must have acted negligently. In comparison, product liability lawsuits do not require fault.

An aircraft lessor may be liable to a third person passenger if: 

(1) they supplied the aircraft at issue; 

(2) the aircraft was defective at the time it was supplied; 

(3) the defect could have been discovered by a reasonable inspection; and 

(4) the defect was the proximate cause of the accident.

A plaintiff must be able to show all four elements for their lawsuit to succeed.

Product Liability

Aviation product liability lawsuits typically target aviation manufacturers and focus on aircraft defects. A common issue in these lawsuits is whether the accident occurred by pilot error, product defect, or a combination of both.

Note that product liability claims are a form of strict liability. Because of the inherently dangerous nature of airplanes, a defendant may be liable for a defect that caused a crash even if they acted responsibly.  

Defective Product

A number of things can go haywire on an airplane. Common defects that cause accidents include improper or incomplete maintenance conducted by a repair facility, negligent operation by a prior operator that creates a defect in the airplane, or the manufacturer’s own conduct in failing to maintain the aircraft before the sale or in between leases.

Failure to Warn

As discussed above, strict product liability is not concerned with whether the manufacturer acted reasonably.

Under a failure to warn strict products liability theory, a plaintiff only needs to prove that the defendant failed to adequately warn them of the risk. Said risk must be known or knowable in light of the information available at the time of manufacture and distribution. 

Breach of Warranty

An action for breach of warranty is another kind of strict product liability lawsuit. It is appropriate where an airplane malfunction causes an accident.

In these instances, the passenger may claim that the airline breached its express or implied warranty about the safety of its aircraft. 

An Experienced Aviation Law Firm That Will Fight for You

The law entitles surviving family members of aviation crash victims to money damages including loss of consortium (companionship), lost future income, and more.

Due to the traumatic nature of airline accidents, the process of searching for an attorney and going through the claims process can be overwhelming. Whether it be filing your claim or litigating your case in court, the Law Office of Chuck Geerhart is here for you every step of the way.

We provide our clients with personalized attention, and tailored strategies to recover the full damages they deserve.  Contact us today for a free consultation. 

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