For more than four decades, Raynes Lawn Hehmeyer has been called upon to represent clients in the United States and around the world who were injured in airplane and aircraft crashes.
For each client’s case we assemble a team that draws on our wealth of experience, including Chuck Hehmeyer providing his practical perspective as a licensed pilot, Marty Brigham analyzing product failure, and Stephen Raynes addressing the legal issues of regulatory compliance and preemption.
We at Raynes Lawn Hehmeyer have guided clients and their cases through the complexities of multi-district and international aviation law including questions such as: where can the claim be brought? Who can be held accountable? What country’s laws for damages apply? Who will tax my recovery? Raynes Lawn Hehmeyer lawyers have been called upon by families who have lost loved ones in private planes, on commuter runs, and on overseas flights, including in Africa, the Indian Ocean, Spain, Scotland, and Canada. With a number of our attorneys being Fellows of the International Academy of Trial Lawyers, we have access to an entire network of some of the most respected trial lawyers around the world.
Aviation disasters are among the most horrifying accidents that can happen. When a plane crash occurs, the attorneys at Raynes Lawn Hehmeyer will conduct a prompt in-depth investigation to assure that our clients obtain the maximum compensation for their losses. We represent victims in all types of aviation accidents, including those involving commercial airliners, private aircraft, helicopters, jets, turboprop aircraft, seaplanes, ultralights, experimental aircraft and others. Our team of aviation lawyers is led by Chuck Hehmeyer, who is a licensed pilot.
Multiple parties may be liable in aviation disasters, including the airplane manufacturer and the maker of any defective parts, flight schools, air traffic controllers, and engine manufacturers. Our attorneys understand how to investigate an aviation accident to uncover the true cause.
Aviation accidents and their causes
Aviation accidents usually occur because of multiple factors. Experts call it a “cascade of events.” Uncovering all the causes that contribute to an airplane crash takes thorough investigative work. Some of the most common causes of airplane crashes include the following:
- Pilot error
- Poor training
- Mechanical failure
- Air traffic control error
- Inadequate aircraft maintenance
Pilot error causes many aviation accidents. For example, a pilot might misread or misunderstand the instruments, fail to complete safety checks or follow checklists, fail to recognize or properly correct a mechanical failure, or attempt to navigate through adverse weather conditions instead of flying around them – or not flying at all. When pilot errors happen, everyone on board may suffer catastrophic or fatal injuries.
Poor training is a common and underappreciated problem. A government mandate about recurrent training imposes legal a minimum; complying with the FAA rules does not mean a pilot is safe in all circumstances, however. Pilots must undergo much more than minimum training if they wish to fly in instrument weather conditions, at night, over dangerous terrain, at higher altitudes, near mountains, etc. Failure to secure the proper training is negligence. It also is important to scrutinize pilot logs to be sure that a pilot involved in an incident has sufficient experience in the type of aircraft he/she is flying and was not fatigued or impaired at the time of the accident.
In some cases, a pilot’s “error” may be the result of the defective design of an aircraft, including a guidance system or a crucial component of flight control. Airplane manufacturers will typically blame accidents on pilot error, despite knowing that many pilots are uninsured or underinsured thereby depriving the victims of fair compensation. It is therefore critically important to perform an investigation independent of the manufacturer and even the National Transportation Safety Board, to be sure that the appropriate parties are held accountable.
Mechanical failures are another common cause of aviation accidents. Mechanical problems occur in many forms. For example, there may be engine issues that were ignored or defects in a part that were not corrected. A critical pin might be made out of the wrong material. There may be a design defect. Today, software and autopilot problems occur and can be devastating. Almost all pilots use commercially available GPS software to navigate. Tragedies occur when the software is not updated either by the vendor or the operator of the plane. Like pilot error, mechanical errors can result in serious injuries to everyone on board.
Air traffic controllers are responsible for directing planes as they take off and land to make sure that the paths of the aircraft are free and clear. When air traffic controllers make mistakes, aviation accidents can happen. The plane might collide with another aircraft on a runway or in the air or with an obstacle like a mountain or a tower.
Planes must also be adequately maintained. Airline and aircraft mechanics are supposed to check the systems to make sure that they are functioning correctly. The baggage handlers must properly load the plane, ensuring that it is not over-weight or out of balance. And, the plane should be fueled so that it can reach its destination with a safe margin for error.
Some other common causes of airplane crashes include the following:
- Defects in the landing gear
- Design defects
- Fuel mismanagement
- Improper inspections
- Inadequate security
- Inadequate training
- Inclement weather
- Instrument failures
- Medical emergencies
- Metal failures
- Mid-air collisions
- Poor fuels
- Tire failures
Most aircraft accidents happen in small planes and helicopters. Medivac and sightseeing helicopters are increasingly involved in aviation accidents. An experienced team of aviation accident lawyers can evaluate your potential claim and provide you with an honest assessment.
Aviation accident liability
The determination of liability is essential in legal cases in which victims are seriously injured or killed. In aviation accidents, multiple parties may be liable for the accident’s causes. You should work with an attorney who understands how to investigate an aviation accident to identify all parties that contributed to its cause. Identifying all liable parties is essential to assure that the victims and the families of people who are killed to recover compensation to pay for their losses.
The plaintiffs must be able to prove that the defendants owed a duty of care to the victims to protect them from harm. In aircraft accidents, the plaintiffs must prove that the company or individual owed the pilot/passengers a duty of care to ensure their safety when the accident occurred, whether it was before the flight, during take-off, during the flight or during the landing. If the plaintiff is unable to show that a defendant owed a duty of care, the plaintiff will not be able to prove that the defendant was negligent or is responsible for damages.
After a plaintiff proves that a defendant owed a duty of care, the plaintiff must next prove that the defendant breached or violated that duty. For example, if an airline mechanic had a duty of care to inspect the landing gear before take-off but failed to do so, the plaintiff can show that the mechanic breached his or her duty of care.
The next element that must be proven by a plaintiff to establish the defendant’s liability is that the defendant’s breach caused the accident. It is insufficient to simply show that a defendant owed a duty that he or she breached. The plaintiff must also show that the breach was a direct or proximate cause of an accident. For example, if the mechanic in the previous example failed to check the landing gear, but the landing gear had nothing to do with the airplane crash, the mechanic would not be liable for the accident.
Finally, the plaintiff must be able to prove that the accident injured him or her. If a plaintiff can prove all these elements of negligence, he or she can hold the defendant liable to pay damages for the plaintiff’s economic and non-economic losses.
What compensation can you recover?
The compensation that might be available following an aviation accident will depend on the facts and circumstances, with the amount of compensation varying from case to case.
How damages are calculated varies tremendously based on which state’s or country’s law applies. This legal issue can sometimes be the most important factor in determining how much compensation a crash victim receives. The lawyers at Raynes Lawn Hehmeyer have represented the plaintiffs in some of the leading legal cases establishing how the courts decide which law will apply. This legal issue can sometimes determine whether the victims receive thousands of dollars or millions of dollars.
We can divide compensation that might be recoverable in an aviation accident that resulted from negligence into two primary categories, including special damages and general damages.
Special damages include the economic or financial losses that you suffered because of your injuries or the loss of your loved ones. These consist of the following categories of damages:
- Your past and future medical expenses
- The cost of your loved one’s medical care from the time of the accident until he or she succumbed to his or her injuries in wrongful death cases
- Your past and future income losses
- The loss of your loved one’s future anticipated earnings in a wrongful death case
- Property losses
- The cost of rehabilitation
- Funeral and burial expenses for your loved one in a wrongful death case
General damages are your non-economic losses and may be more challenging to value. Some of these categories of damages include the following:
- Your past and future physical pain and suffering
- The pain and suffering that your loved one suffered from the time of the accident until he or she died
- Emotional trauma
- Loss of consortium for spouses
- Scarring and disfigurement
- Loss of the ability to enjoy life
In some cases, punitive damages might be available. These are damages that are not designed to compensate the victims but are instead intended to punish the defendants. These types of damages are reserved for situations in which the actions of the defendants were particularly outrageous.
Get help from an aviation accident lawyer
If you have been seriously injured or have lost your loved one in an aviation accident, you may have legal rights. Contact the national aviation legal team at Raynes Lawn Hehmeyer to learn more about your rights by filling out our contact form or calling us at 800-535-1797. Even in accidents that occur outside the United States, the responsible parties often are located within the United States and can be sued here. All of these types of claims are subject to statutes of limitations, which are laws that impose a time limit on how long you can wait to file suit. It is important not to delay contacting an attorney.
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