You’ve likely heard this statistic: It’s four times safer to take a plane than it is to drive a car. Yet, when accidents happen, plane crashes become extremely serious, if not fatal.

Airplane accidents come with a different set of legal rules, along with a very specific range of causes. As news stories show, crashes potentially result from mechanical failure, defective parts, design issues, pilot and air traffic controller errors, weather, birds, fire, lack of fuel, terrorism, and sabotage. Along with these varied scenarios, accidents don’t just affect passengers and workers on board; a catastrophic incident may involve civilians in the surrounding area. According to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), 1,670 general aviation accidents occurred in 2005 alone, involving 1,688 planes; out of this amount, 321 resulted in deaths.

Yet, not all crashes are equal. It’s said that charter and personal planes are at a greater risk than commercial flights, and according to the NTSB, 8,016 civilian plane crashes from 2004 to 2008 resulted in 2,640 deaths. Pilots’ errors contributed to 75 percent of these instances. Along with these statistics, the NTSB has reported that a lack of fuel resulted 238 civilian airplane accidents over a five-year period.

Separate Rules

For those unfamiliar, the Montreal Convention governs international flights, including how responsible an airline is in the event of an accident. This international air carrier treaty, enacted in 1999 by the International Civil Aviation Organization, specifies that, if the airline is found to be at fault, it is responsible for up to 113,110 special drawing rights per passenger. As of 2013, this figure amounts to roughly $170,000 per passenger.

As well, this law does not limit what plaintiffs can recover, unless the airline proves it took all necessary precautions to prevent the accident.

The Aviation Disaster Family Assistance Act further specifies what the U.S. government can do after an accident. An independent nonprofit must be set up to offer support services to families of victims and survivors, including:

  • Working with victims’ families
  • Assisting with mental health and counseling
  • Victim identification
  • Forensic services
  • Memorial services
  • Communicating with foreign governments and translation

This Act further requires airlines to have a toll-free number for families of victims; to list all passengers on the flight and to inform families before the list becomes public; to inform families of all deaths of family members; and to assist families in traveling to the location of the accident. While the Act allows families to contact lawyers immediately after, the law prevents attorneys from contacting affected families 45 days after the crash.

A third law must be kept in mind: the General Aviation Revitalization Act of 1994. This Act states a plaintiff cannot sue a manufacturer of a small private plane (fewer than 20 seats) if it has been in service for 18 or more years.

Plaintiffs further must keep in mind that, with charter and private flights, a defendant with no insurance or a limited policy may not be covered to pay for damages after an accident.

Filing a Lawsuit

Because of the number of passengers coming from several locations, the typical airplane accident lawsuit becomes a multi-district litigation (MDL) case. Most fall within the following types:

Product Liability: A defect in the design or manufacturing caused the crash. However, these are typically strict liability cases, in which the defendant doesn’t have to be negligent.

Negligence: Human error is partially responsible for the crash, including carelessness by the pilot or other individuals on board. The plaintiff must prove the pilot or other individual didn’t behave in a reasonably careful manner.

Mass Tort: Plaintiffs must sue under the Federal Tort Claims Act, if they believe a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) employee is responsible for the accident. This Act lays out special rules and procedures for suing a federal employee.

Were you or a loved one involved in a plane crash? Have the experienced personal injury lawyers of Trantolo & Trantolo represent your claim. Contact any of our Connecticut offices to learn more.