Air disasters, private and commercial aviation accidents, and fatal plane crashes occur across the country in large and small airports, heliports, mountain terrain and recreational areas. We represent the heirs and loved ones of passengers killed in crashes involving commercial airliners, helicopters, air ambulances, medevac transports, commuter airlines and private planes.
At Walkup, Melodia, Kelly & Schoenberger, our California aviation crash wrongful death specialists include a former Navy pilot who has special aviation skills and decades of experience trying fatal airliner, private plane and helicopter crashes.
Are Pilots Liable for Plane Crashes?
Liability refers to one’s legal responsibility to a party for causing or contributing to the party’s damages. For a pilot to be liable for a plane crash, he or she must have done something that became the proximate or main cause of the accident. The pilot must have been negligent in some way that ended in disaster. Any action by the pilot that does not fulfill the reasonable standards of duty and care for the circumstances may be negligence.
Critical pilot errors can include:
- Pilot incompetence or lack of training
- Improper procedure
- Loss of control in flight
- Controlled flight into terrain
- Pilot fatigue
- Missed runway/excessive landing speed
- Navigation error
Plane crashes and other aviation accidents are typically catastrophic and do not leave many passengers unscathed. Plane crashes don’t happen every day, but they occur more often than many people realize. In 2015, there were 1,282 aviation accidents in the U.S., resulting in 406 deaths.
When a plane goes down, the first question is often, “Why did the accident happen?” The next question should be, “Who is liable for damages?” While pilot error is a major contributor to many plane crashes, the pilot isn’t the only party that might be at fault.
Since at least the 1960s, pilot error has been the number one cause of plane crashes around the United States. Pilots can cause accidents through negligence, carelessness, recklessness, or intent to harm. If a pilot’s actions or failure to act results in a harmful plane crash, survivors and family members of the deceased can file lawsuits against the pilot and other parties to pursue compensation for physical pain, emotional suffering, medical bills, lost wages, and other damages.
It takes a great deal of training to get your commercial pilot’s license, and even more to become an airline pilot. Private pilots, on the other hand, can go through light or expedited training courses to get their licenses to fly. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), for example, offers a light sport pilot license program that takes just 12 days to complete. Traditional pilot licenses can take months or years to complete.
If a pilot does not receive enough training, or is too young or inexperienced to fly the plane solo, it can result in crashes. Pilot errors such as “loss of control in flight” are most common in less experienced pilots. Incompetent pilots might not know how to react to situations such as collapsed landing gear or bad weather. The result can be fatal if the pilot panics or loses control of the aircraft. Lack of training or pilot incompetence can result in pilot liability for a crash.
Negligence or Recklessness
Even the most experienced pilots can make mistakes. Acts of negligence, such as failing to check the weather prior to taking up a private party, can end in disaster. Recklessness can describe a pilot trying to perform stunts or showing up to the helm under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Pilot carelessness can take many forms, including:
- Failing to prepare for the flight
- Failing to properly inspect and maintain the aircraft
- Failing to program autopilot
- Miscalculating fuel consumption
- Neglecting to pay attention while piloting
- Failing to communicate with crew members or air controllers
- Improperly maneuvering the aircraft
- Mismanaging the plane’s technology
Any action that a “reasonable and prudent” pilot would not have done in the same circumstances could qualify as negligence, and result in pilot liability. There are things all pilots should do to reduce the risk of a crash. Failure to do these things, resulting in an accident, will almost certainly come down to pilot liability.
Aircraft mechanical error is the second-leading cause of plane crashes. While this won’t always be the pilot’s fault, it could be if the pilot is the same person in charge of the aircraft’s maintenance and daily inspections. For example, if the pilot owns a private plane. If it is the pilot’s duty to inspect the craft, order repairs, and take care of routine maintenance, injured parties could sue the pilot for failing to fulfill these duties if a crash ensues.
Besides the pilot, injured plane crash victims might be able to sue an airline, aircraft part manufacturer, maintenance crew, government agency, and/or a few other parties. Talk to a San Francisco aviation attorney about your right to sue.
Who Can You Sue for Pilot Error?
Many plane crashes do not stem from a single factor, but multiple factors all culminating in the accident. While a pilot may have contributed to an accident, there are likely other factors at work as well, such as equipment failure, bad weather, structural issues, air traffic controller negligence, poor plane maintenance, or safety code violations.
In any plane accident, liable parties can include the pilot, the owner of the aircraft, a manufacturing company, maintenance supplier, the federal government, and several other third parties. Anyone who shared responsibility for a plane crash can face legal action. A pilot may be at least partially liable if he or she played a role in the accident. If the pilot is an employee of a company, the company will be vicariously liable for the actions of the pilot.
California is a comparative negligence state, meaning the courts can assign percentages of fault to more than one defendant in a personal injury or wrongful death claim. Plane crashes are complex events that typically don’t result from a single action or one entity’s fault. Since the circumstances of all aviation accidents are unique, they require experienced attorneys to protect the rights of victims and fight for maximum compensation.
Need A Wrongful Death Lawyer In California?
Fatal collisions, whether of small planes, commercial jetliners, commuter planes or helicopters, may occur for many reasons: weather, navigation errors, pilot error, improper maintenance, contaminated fuel, mechanical or product flaws and even air traffic controller negligence. Regardless of the reason for the disaster, our aviation litigation team has represented survivors in a host of situations.
Our California wrongful death aviation crash lawyers offer our clients a proven track record of success in obtaining compensation for those left behind when an aviation crash takes the life of a loved one. Our wrongful death litigation team has experience in almost every aspect of liability, including defective replacement parts, pilot negligence, air traffic controller error, negligent maintenance, failure to follow safety procedures, and even crashes caused by defective maps, counterfeit replacement parts and fuel contamination.
Our aviation wrongful death litigators have experience working hand in hand with government investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) as well as with local and state investigators. Because government-based investigations can take years, we often commission an independent investigation on behalf of our clients as soon as possible after a crash, and we move swiftly to identify potentially liable parties. If you have lost a loved one in a plane crash or an aviation disaster of any kind, the Walkup wrongful death aviation team, headed by a former military pilot, is ready to help.
If you have suffered the loss of a loved one from a severe injury or accident in California, Walkup Melodia can help you. For an immediate consultation with one our attorneys, call us at (415) 981-7210 or contact us online and we’ll reach out to you asap.
Examples Of Our Success In Aviation Cases
Private Plane Crash — $3 Million Wrongful Death Settlement
Our team obtained a $3 million settlement on behalf of the widow and two surviving children of a 45-year-old missionary who died in a plane crash in Mexico. While the man was traveling on a missionary relief effort, the cam shaft gear broke in the plane that the he was piloting. The Walkup wrongful death litigators successfully brought a wrongful death claim against the manufacturers of the engine, demonstrating that it contained both design and manufacturing flaws.
Commercial Air Crash — $2 Million Wrongful Death Settlement
Our airline wrongful death litigation team obtained a settlement in excess of $2 million on behalf of the grandparents of a 7-year-old child who died on Alaska Airlines Flight 261 when the plane crashed en route from Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, to San Francisco. Our wrongful death lawyers, working in conjunction with attorneys for other plaintiffs in the case, proved that Alaska Airlines did not perform required maintenance and overlooked signs of potential problems, thereby assuming responsibility for the deaths.
Air Ambulance Crash — Seven-Figure Confidential Settlement
Our aviation team of wrongful death lawyers concluded a federal court wrongful death case on behalf of the survivors of a 40-year-old mother and her 1-year-old daughter who died 45 minutes after boarding a Cessna King Air ambulance transporting the child to a regional medical center. The plane crashed shortly after takeoff, killing all passengers and crew members. Walkup’s aviation lawyers argued that the pilot was not properly trained to fly the aircraft because he had only three hours of nighttime training.
Further, they argued that he had selected a dangerous departure route from the rural airport and, as a result, became spatially disoriented and flew the plane into the ground. The defense argued that the pilot was properly trained and the departure route was approved by the Federal Aviation Administration. Our wrongful death clients included the deceased mother’s heirs, including her siblings and mother. The case was concluded by way of a mediated settlement in a confidential seven-figure amount.