Although flying is the safest form of transportation, accidents do happen. Aircraft of all sizes and workloads, from large jet airliners to helicopters flying tourists on sightseeing tours, have both minor mishaps that merely damage an aircraft to major crashes that prove fatal to pilots, passengers, and people on the ground. A wide variety of factors can contribute to aviation accidents, many of which could have been avoided through the exercise of care by a pilot, mechanic, or other aviation-industry professional.
When aircraft accidents cause injuries and fatalities, victims and their families need legal counsels who know how to secure them the compensation they deserve. To learn more about how we can help after an aviation accident harms you or your family, contact Viles & Beckman today.
About Viles & Beckman
Viles & Beckman helps people recover compensation and obtain justice when someone else’s careless or reckless behavior does them harm. Since 1995, our firm has helped victims of personal injury and tragedy recover millions of dollars from negligent drivers, careless boaters, unscrupulous businesspeople, and the insurance companies who cover them.
The team of attorneys and legal professionals at Viles & Beckman knows how to get results for our clients. When possible, we extract maximum settlements from defendants and their insurance companies through negotiation. When necessary, we take our clients’ cases to court. Although we can never guarantee an outcome, our clients can rest assured that their case is in aggressive, capable hands.
Aviation Accident Statistics
According to statistics available from the National Transportation Safety Board, it is extremely rare for air passenger carriers in the United States to have fatal accidents. They happen, but rarely.
But of course, passenger airlines aren’t the only planes in the sky. Commuter and on-demand air carriers suffered 38 accidents in 2016 (the latest year for which comprehensive statistics are currently available). Of those, 9 accidents resulted in 27 fatalities. Crashes are even more common for general aviation (meaning every type of aircraft other than passenger airlines and commuter/on-demand carriers). In 2016, general aviation flights had 1,267 accidents. Of those, 213 were fatal with 386 fatalities.
According to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), 1 billion passengers fly every year on various types of aircraft. An average of 2,789,971 people fly in and out of the 19,622 U.S. airports every day. At peak times, an average of 5,000 aircraft is in the sky at any one time. The FAA handles 16,100,000 flights every year.
Between January 2017 and March 8, 2019, 14 accidents took place across the United States. Of those, three were in Florida: Pahokee, Daytona Beach, and Marineland.
Causes of Aviation Accidents
According to PlaneCrashInfo.com, an aviation accident watchdog, 49 percent of aviation accidents between the 1950s and 2019 resulted from pilot error. The second most common cause, at 23 percent of all accidents over the past 70 years, was mechanical failure. Weather played a part in 10 percent of the accidents, and sabotage played a part in 8 percent. The remaining 10 percent were due to various other causes.
Pilot error covers a wide range of potential mistakes by the persons in an aircraft’s cockpit. Among other mistakes known to have occurred in aviation accidents, pilot error includes:
- Improper procedure;
- Flying VFR into IFR conditions;
- Controlled flight into terrain;
- Descending below minimal altitude;
- Spatial disorientation;
- Premature descent;
- Excessive landing speed;
- Missed runway;
- Fuel starvation;
- Navigation error;
- Missed a runway on takeoff or landing; and
- Midair collisions caused by the primary pilot.
A determination that pilot error caused an aviation accident typically results from a thorough investigation by the NTSB, often with input from other aviation authorities.
Modern aircraft, even small planes operating in general aviation, are highly complex machines. Proper maintenance of aircraft requires great skill and extreme diligence. At 25,000 feet, even a small mechanical issue can spell catastrophe.
- Engine failure;
- Equipment failure;
- Structural failure; and
- Design flaws.
At times weather conditions may cause a plane to crash. While airlines do not fly in the worst weather, sometimes a bad storm can sneak up on an aircraft. If weather is determined to be too dangerous, most aircraft turn around or try to fly over, under or around the storm. Weather incidents may include:
- Severe turbulence;
- Mountain wave;
- Heavy rain;
- Poor visibility;
- Severe winds;
- Lightning strikes; and
Unfortunately, aircraft do have incidents of sabotage, including:
- Being shot down;
- Pilot suicide; and
- An explosive device onboard.
Other Types of Accident Causes
The FAA categorizes some accidents under “Other.” These may include:
- ATC error;
- Ground crew error;
- The plane is overloaded;
- The cargo is not loaded properly;
- Bird strikes;
- Contaminated fuel;
- The pilot is incapacitated;
- An obstruction on the runway;
- A crash caused by another aircraft;
- Fire and/or smoke in the cabin, cockpit or cargo hold; or
- A maintenance error.
You may be entitled to compensation for any type of aircraft accident or if you lost a loved one in a plane crash. You will have to bring the lawsuit against the proper parties or risk getting your case dismissed. If your plane wrecked because of pilot error, you might bring the suit against the pilot, the airport and the airline itself. But if a defective part caused the crash, you might bring a suit against the manufacturer, the airline or the ground crew, depending on the part, what the defect was, and whether the defect should have been seen before takeoff.
Injuries in a Plane Crash
Because of the nature of a plane crash, the injuries are usually catastrophic. However, people have escaped with minor scrapes, cuts, and bruises. Injuries may include:
- Cuts, scrapes, scratches, bruises, and abrasions: These may heal quickly unless you have an underlying condition that delays healing, such as a weakened immune system or diabetes.
- Sprains, strains, pulled or torn muscles, and other soft-tissue injuries: Soft-tissue injuries usually heal in a matter of weeks, though some, like torn muscles, may require surgery and months of physical therapy.
- Fractures: You could get several types of fractures. Some may require surgery and some not, depending on the type and complexity. If you do require surgery, the open wound also has a chance of getting infected, which could take the wound longer to heal.
- Compound fractures: A compound fracture is one that breaks the skin. It almost always requires surgery to repair. Because of the open wound from the broken bone and the from the surgery, the site could become infected, causing the wound to heal slower.
- Damage to your eyes: Eye damage could range from getting foreign substances in your eyes, including leaking fuel and other chemicals to damage to the tissues and muscles that make up the eye.
- Dental damage: If you hit your face when you crash or you do something as minor as clench your teeth when you stress up before the crash, the impact could cause dental damage.
- Head and brain injuries: Head and brain injuries are usually catastrophic. Even what seems to be a minor concussion could cause issues now and later in life. Concussions have been linked to chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).
- Neck, shoulder, spine and back injuries: Spine and neck injuries, and sometimes shoulder and back injuries, could lead to catastrophic complications including paralysis and chronic pain. The secondary injuries may take weeks or months to heal, or could be long-term or even permanent.
- Amputations: Aircraft have a lot of metal, hard plastics and other materials that could cut you. Amputations could happen two ways: At the accident or later because damage to too severe to repair.
- Psychological issues: An aircraft accident could trigger the onset of depression, post traumatic stress disorder or other issues for many reasons including losing a loved one, you learn your injuries are long-term or permanent, or even just because you relive the terror of the crash when you see, hear or smell something that reminds you of the crash.
What Your Case May Be Worth
Three types of damages are available for accident victims: Special, general and punitive damages. Special damages, sometimes called economic damages, are those with specific costs attached. General damages, sometimes called non-economic damages, are those without a specific cost. Punitive damages are only awarded when the defendant’s behavior was grossly negligent.
Special or Economic Damages
Special damages may include:
- Medical expenses;
- Lost wages;
- Future medical expenses;
- Future lost wages;
- Burial and funeral expenses; and
- The repair or replacement of personal property.
Future medical expenses and lost wages technically do not have an amount attached to them because the amount is unknown. They may be categorized as general damages. If your injuries are long-term or expected to be permanent, you may be entitled to future medical expenses and lost wages. Future medical expenses also cover any type of therapy you may require to recover, including physical therapy and psychological therapy for depression, post traumatic stress syndrome or other issues caused by the crash or your injuries and/or losses.
The insurance companies and attorneys estimate the length your injuries are expected to last. If you have underlying conditions that may hinder recovery, be sure to let your attorney know so that he or she may figure that into any award for future medical expenses and lost wages you may be entitled to. Underlying issues that may hinder healing include diabetes, cancer and other conditions and medications that lower your immune system. Even something as simple as taking aspirin for heart-related problems could hinder healing.
General or Non-Economic Damages
General damages may include:
- Pain and suffering including physical and emotional pain and any therapy you may need for either type of pain.
- Loss of companionship if you are not able to take part in family events you would normally attend, such as hiking, camping, going to your children’s extracurricular activities or even going to a movie.
- Loss of consortium if you are no longer able to have a physical relationship with your spouse.
- Loss of use of a limb if you lose a limb in the accident or have to have a limb amputated because of excessive damage or because of infection/gangrene to an open wound you received in the accident.
- Inconvenience if you are not able to do household chores that you would normally do and have to pay someone to do the chores for you. Chores may include mowing the lawn, cleaning the pool, general home maintenance, cooking, cleaning, and other chores.
Generally, non-economic damages are only awarded if your injuries are expected to be long term or permanent. If your spouse was killed in an aviation accident, you may be entitled to economic damages to cover any medical expenses he or she may have incurred in addition to several types of non-economic damages.
If the airline, pilot, ground crew tower crew or other airline employees or, in the case of a private plane, the pilot and crew, are found to be grossly negligent, you may be entitled to punitive damages. This type of award is only awarded to the plaintiff as a punishment for the defendant’s actions or inactions that were done with the intent to harm or that were grossly negligent. For example, if the crew inspecting the plane before takeoff noticed a safety concern and did not correct it because they were told by a supervisor to ignore it, and at least one of those who knew about it knew it could cause a crash, you may be entitled to punitive damages.
If you or a loved one was hurt in an aviation accident, contact Viles & Beckman at 239-334-3933 or email us for a free consultation.