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Aviation Accidents

We enjoy a very safe air transportation system in the United States. However, on occasion, an accident does happen and it is usually a catastrophic event resulting in serious injuries or casualties. There are numerous factors that can lead to an aviation accident, including pilot error, air traffic control problems, inaccurate weather reporting or mechanical defects. These negligent actions put passengers in danger. Those who are affected by injury or death from aircraft accidents have a right to pursue a civil lawsuit against the responsible parties, such as the airline or manufacturers, to recover financial damages caused by the crash.

There are three categories of aircraft most commonly involved in civil lawsuits:

  1. Commercial Aircraft: Commercial aircraft carry multiple passengers and cargo, and are often operated by airlines. In the U.S., the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) closely regulates commercial aircraft by setting strict standards for pilots, as well as the maintenance of aircraft. Pilots must meet training requirements, undergo recurrent training, go through regular medical examinations and be “fit for flight.”
  2. Privately Owned Aircraft: Privately owned aircraft are flown by companies or private citizens for non-commercial purposes, to further their business or recreational interests. Privately flown aircraft and pilots are also regulated by the FAA, but not as comprehensively as commercial carriers. While privately owned aircraft are not authorized to carry passengers for a fee, the owners and pilots still owe a duty of safety to people on board the aircraft and on the ground.
  3. Charter Aircraft: Charter aircraft are used in a variety of circumstances where a pilot transports one person or a small group of people for a set fee. One of the most familiar uses of a charter aircraft is an ambulance helicopter. Helicopters and fixed wing aircraft are frequently used to transport the injured and sick to large tertiary hospitals. Another use of a charter operation is to get to an airport not serviced by a commercial carrier. Like all other aircraft, charter aircraft are tightly regulated by the FAA and must meet stringent maintenance and pilot requirements.

An aviation negligence case is complex, often requiring an understanding of the mechanics of operating an aircraft, manufacturing of an aircraft and federal regulations. Padberg, Corrigan & Appelbaum is a Missouri aviation accident law firm that is uniquely qualified to represent surviving victims of an airplane crash, as well as families of individuals fatally injured around the country. Our co-founder Matthew Padberg is an instrumented rated pilot who has been flying for over 25 years. His experience in training pilots and flying aircraft provides detailed insight into the complications associated with aircraft crashes, making Matt one of the most recognized aviation accident attorneys in the Midwest. Matt, along with the rest of the Padberg, Corrigan & Appelbaum team, perform a careful and thorough investigation when representing the victims of plane accidents.

Notable Aviation Accidents Cases

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A confidential settlement for the family of a 60-year-old woman who died in commuter plane crash.

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Who can file an aviation accident claim?

Any passenger injured from an aircraft crash may file a claim against responsible parties. In the case of death, the family or appropriate class may bring a wrongful death suit.

Who is liable for an injury caused by an aircraft?

In an aircraft accident, potential liable parties are the air carrier, the pilot (if a private aircraft), the manufacturer of the aircraft, the manufacturer of aircraft components, the Federal Government (if there was air traffic control issues) or the owner of other aircraft if there is a collision between two or more aircraft. If there is pilot error, and the pilot does not survive the accident, a claim may be made against the pilot’s estate.

What can I expect if I file a lawsuit after an aviation accident and how long will it take?

Immediately following an aviation accident, the National Transportation and Safety Board (NTSB) undertakes an investigation to determine the cause of the accident, which normally takes no less than a year. During this time, the victims and surviving family members can begin their lawsuit by hiring an experienced aviation crash law firm. The firm will then file the lawsuit with the court and serve papers to the defendants. Once the attorneys for a defending party enter their appearance, they have an opportunity to file a response to the case. Both parties then move in to discovery, which is a phase of the case where the investigation progresses and depositions are taken. After discovery, a trial or mediation will be scheduled. Because of the complexity of these types of cases, it can take months to years to come to a resolution.

Do I need to wait for an NTSB investigation to complete before I file a lawsuit?

An injured party can file a lawsuit before an investigation is completed by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). However, a settlement rarely occurs until after the NTSB arrives at a conclusion. The NTSB has primary jurisdiction over the investigation. The NTSB may determine a cause of an accident, but such a finding is not always the basis for a civil lawsuit because it can be swayed by politics. However, the facts determined during the investigation can be used by both sides to help build their cases.

Are aviation accidents handled in state or federal court?

Where a case is tried depends on jurisdictional facts. An aircraft crash case can be in federal or state court. The usual analysis depends on the citizenship of the parties. If the defendants all live in states that are diverse from the plaintiffs, federal court may be available. If not, the case is usually in state court.

The most important, yet technically demanding, legal aspect to resolve in aircraft accidents is which law to apply or “choice of law.” The 50 states all have different laws that pertain to injuries that occur inside their borders, and some states make it harder to recover than others. For aviation accident cases the law of several states may apply since modern aircraft can cover great distances in a short period of time. For example, a flight from New York to Los Angeles will overfly more than ten states. If the flight crashes while flying over Kansas, the following state laws could possibly apply:

  • Kansas law since the crash occurred there
  • New York law since the flight departed there
  • California law since the passengers lived there
  • Washington law since the plane was built there
  • Pennsylvania law since a passenger bought his ticket there

Courts generally do not apply the law of the crash site, since the location of the crash is considered somewhat random given the nature of aircraft transportation.   

Are there any related statutes of limitations?

Because the choice of law is often unclear, determining the statute of limitations for an aviation accident can be complicated. States with the shortest statute of limitations typically give at least two years to file claims; however, shorter deadlines may apply. Contact an experienced aircraft litigation attorney to sort through the facts of a particular case and best define the statutes of limitations.

What type of damages can I recover?

Financial damages that are recoverable in an aviation accident are governed by the state’s law that is applied. Generally, damages for medical bills, economic losses, funeral bills, pain and suffering, disfigurement, and disability are sought by victims of aircraft accidents. Unfortunately, not all states allow these types of damages, so plaintiff attorneys will try to apply the law most favorable for their clients and defense attorneys will try to do the opposite. In cases of international travel, certain treaties will affect what can be recovered.

How much will it cost me to file a lawsuit for an aviation accident injury?

Padberg, Corrigan & Appelbaum works on a contingency fee basis, meaning our clients don’t pay us a fee unless we recover financial damages for their case. Additionally, we cover all upfront costs for investigations and experts, which clients only have to pay back out of their settlement or judgment. Based in St. Louis, the attorneys at Padberg, Corrigan & Appelbaum have handled aircraft injury cases all over the Midwest and countrywide. With more than 25 years of experience as both a pilot and a personal injury attorney, our co-founder Matt Padberg takes aviation accidents to heart when representing victims and their families. For a confidential and free legal consultation, contact our office today.

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