Causes of Aviation Accidents

The law firm of Magaña, Cathcart & McCarthy offers a unique combination of seasoned trial attorneys who are also experienced as pilots, aircraft owners, and aviation accident investigators. Our team has been involved in a number of landmark aviation cases and approaches each case with the instinct and foresight to understand the cause of the accident and hold the appropriate parties responsible for their negligence or wrongful conduct.

Causes and Liability

There are many different theories under which an owner, operator, or manufacturer of an airplane or component part may be held liable for an accident, including vicarious liability, negligence, and products liability. Much depends upon the facts of the particular accident, such as whether the aircraft qualifies as a commercial carrier or common carrier subject to Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations.

Common causes of aviation accidents include:

  • Pilot error
  • Manufacturing defects
  • Equipment failure
  • Structural or design problems
  • Violation of Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations
  • Negligence of Flight Service Station employees
  • Negligence of Federal Air Traffic Controllers
  • Negligence in a third party’s selection of a carrier
  • Failure to maintain or repair the aircraft or its components
  • Failure to fuel the aircraft
  • Poor helipad design or helipad operator negligence
  • Ground obstructions
  • Air traffic controller error

Liability Insurance

Similar to laws requiring automobile drivers to carry liability insurance, California state law requires private plane operators to carry minimum amounts of liability insurance, which may be used to compensate victims of aviation accidents. Just as with car insurance, however, the minimum amounts mandated by law are often inadequate to fully compensate a victim of a serious accident. U.S. law does require interstate carriers and air taxi operators to carry insurance ranging anywhere from $75,000 to $300,000 per person and $300,000 to $20,000,000 per occurrence. At the low end of this range, the policy limits will be exceeded by injuries in most cases, and whether the insurance requirement even applies in a particular case is often a disputed topic of litigation.

Regardless of whether the accident is covered by insurance or not, the injured party still bears the burden of proving all of the essential elements of a personal injury case, including the cause of the accident and the defendant’s responsibility, and the nature and extent of the plaintiff’s injuries. These matters may be vigorously disputed by the defendant and the insurance companies. Litigating against airlines and their insurers requires reputable, experienced attorneys with the knowledge, skills, and resources to withstand the various defenses and procedural roadblocks which are commonly placed in the way to recovery.

Defense to Liability: The General Aviation Revitalization Act (GARA)

GARA establishes a statute of repose which limits lawsuits based on products liability to 18 years from the date of manufacture. A statute of repose should be distinguished from the more commonly understood statute of limitations. A statute of limitations establishes a deadline from the date of the accident, such as two years, within which a lawsuit may be initiated. A statute of repose, on the other hand, prohibits any lawsuits after a certain time period has passed, such as 18 years after airplane manufacture in the case of GARA. Therefore, if an airplane has been in service more than 18 years, a lawsuit may not be allowed, even if brought within the applicable statute of limitations timeframe.

GARA applies to makers of small private planes and component parts.  The law has been broadly interpreted to apply to any type of craft for which the FAA has issued an airworthiness certificate, which is capable of seating fewer than 20 passengers, and which was not engaged in scheduled passenger-carrying operations at the time of the accident. GARA covers the original airplane manufacturer as well as its agents and successors in interests, and has also been applicable to dealers, distributors, sellers, and lessors.

GARA can provide a powerful, effective defense, cutting off liability in the event of an accident. However, GARA does contain four major exceptions. The GARA defense does not apply when:

  • The manufacturer knowingly misrepresented or concealed material information (fraud)
  • The passenger was on board for purposes of receiving treatment in a medical emergency
  • The victim was not on board the aircraft at the time of the accident
  • A written warranty was in place that would provide a remedy to the victim were it not for GARA

Knowledgeable and Experienced Legal Representation

The law firm of Magaña, Cathcart & McCarthy has been practicing aviation accident litigation for over 60 years and has wealth of experience in matters ranging from helicopter accidents and small private plane crashes to major commercial airline disasters. If you or a loved one has been injured in an aviation accident, contact Magaña, Cathcart & McCarthy to speak with one of our capable and experienced attorneys.

1801 Avenue of the Stars, Suite 600Los Angeles, California90067-5899U.S.A.
Telephone: 310-553-6630 or 800-742-1019Fax: 310-785-9143