What would you do if you were in an airplane accident? Who would you call? Who is responsible for investigating the accident and those involved?
Odds are, delving into the intricacies of aviation law is not on the top of your current weekend “to do” list. Perhaps the knowledge that, according to the FAA, air traffic will double over the next 20 years, will move it up a bit. With such an increase in air traffic, there will be a proportional increase in the risk to passengers and thus an increase in the need to prepare for such an eventuality.
The real issue with airplane accidents is that, though they are less frequent than, car accidents or bicycle accidents, they often result in fatalities. What would you do if someone you loved was killed in an airplane accident? To whom would you turn for answers? Are you prepared for such an event?
The following is a quick overview of the basic aspects of aviation law.
There are two federal agencies that regulate all aviation, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).
The FAA is responsible for setting the safety standards for pilots, flight operations, and aircraft manufactures. They also have the power to enforce their regulations via civil or criminal penalties.
The NTSB investigates all civil aircraft accidents and makes safety recommendations to prevent future accidents.
Aviation accident law covers all accidents that occur under these two agencies which includes ‘General Aviation’ and ‘Major Air Carriers’. General aviation is comprised of all non-commercial aircrafts such as small planes, large business jets, charter flights, pleasure crafts, helicopters, and hang gliders. Major air carriers are comprised of the commercial airlines that operate out most major airports.
The complexity of aviation law becomes apparent in defining the defendant or that person or party who is libel for the accident. First, liability can occur under state, federal or international law. Next, there are a variety of courts in which the trial may take place. Also, in order to show that the defendant is liable for the accident it must be proven that said person failed to meet an industry standard of aircraft operation, engineering, or failed to meet a regulation.
Being familiar with industry standards across the board is not something that one can do over night. The standards could have been breached by a pilot, a manufacturer, the government, or even a maintenance person. There are regulations that are over each of these potential defendants, that come from both the FAA and the NTSB. Then, you have the issue of Federal, State, and international law, depending on where the accident took place. Often, an accident is caused by disregarding a combination of these regulations. If the accident occurs in the United States, Federal regulations nearly always play a part.
In order to begin any investigation, you will need to work with your attorney to decide if the accident was caused by either negligence or product liability. Negligence refers to someone having done something that is outside the scope of what a reasonable person would due under the same circumstances. When dealing with professionals such as pilots, the comparison would be made so as to decide what a reasonable pilot would do in the same situation. The negligence does not necessarily have to come from the pilot however. In cases of negligence, it is often the case that the maintenance crew, the airport crew, including air traffic control, and the airline management can be held liable for an accident.
In cases of product liability the manufacturer of a product can be held liable if it can be proved that a defect in their product was the cause of the accident. In this case, the manufacturer, not the airline would be responsible for paying the damages.
Aviation law is a very complex area of law that takes years to learn. Contacting an attorney as soon as possible after an airplane accident can save you time and money in the long run. It can also give you peace of mind to know that you are being taken care of.