Though airplane crashes are rare, they can have a devastating impact on survivors’ lives. The medical bills, loss of livelihood, and emotional stress often require financial compensation. Since the rights of plane crash victims can vary based on what exactly caused the crash, an experienced airplane accident lawyer is necessary for sorting out the appropriate next steps in your case.

The Cause of the Accident

To successfully win in court, a plane crash victim must have sufficient evidence against the party he or she is suing. This can take some time to establish since a variety of factors can cause plane crashes. Sometimes the manufacturer of the airplane is entirely to blame, while other times the airline itself played a major role in the mistakes that caused the crash. Pilot or air traffic controller errors can also be a factor.

In the United States, airplane crashes are investigated by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). Sometimes the NTSB will be assisted by the Federal Aviation Administration or the Federal Bureau of Investigation, if necessary. However, victims also have the right to open their own investigations, and these investigations may make the difference between success and failure in a lawsuit.

Bringing a Case

Victims generally have the right to file one or more lawsuits depending on the nature of the crash. If negligence is suspected, victims can sue individuals, such as the pilot or a mechanic who worked on the plane. Air traffic controllers can also be sued, but federal employees must be sued under a different set of rules than most individuals. The threshold for proving negligence can be high, depending on the type of crash and how much evidence the NTSB was able to collect.

If a defective airplane or airplane part caused the crash, then the victim can also file a product liability claim. The threshold for winning these cases is fairly low since the plaintiff does not have to prove that the manufacturer was negligent.

Aid for Victims

Under the Aviation Disaster Family Assistance Act of 1996, the United States federal government is required to assist victims, and their families after major plane crashes. The NTSB is responsible for designating a nonprofit to coordinate mental health treatment, provide information to families, and facilitate translation services when necessary. In cases where international flights or foreign nationals are involved, coordination and communication with foreign governments will also be handled.

The airline is required to set up a phone number for providing information to victims and their families and to provide transportation for loved ones needing to get to the site of the crash.

Compensation Under International Law

In 1999, a treaty was put into place requiring many international flights to follow special rules for compensation after a crash. As a general rule, victims and their families can collect up to approximately $170,000 from an airline. However, this rule can be waived in cases where the airline was negligent. Many countries are not signatories to this treaty, so collecting compensation from airlines in those countries can be difficult.

Depending on the severity of a crash and how negligent the airline was, a victim may be able to collect large amounts of compensation for medical costs as well as for pain and suffering. There are also special rules in place regarding cargo loss and other aspects of a crash. The laws can vary from case to case depending on the airlines and countries involved, so it’s important to consult an airplane accident lawyer about your case.

Next Steps

Victims and their families should act soon after a crash to make sure their rights are respected by airlines, the government, and other parties.
During this critical time, top personal injury lawyers and attorneys specializing in plane crashes can help victims document their injuries and collect the evidence necessary for bringing a successful case. While NTSB and other government agency personnel can be helpful, victims and their families need to have access to personalized aid.

Class action lawsuits are common in airplane crash cases but joining that lawsuit may not be the best option for you. Joining a class action suit may require you to waive certain legal rights. Don’t sign any legal paperwork until you’ve consulted with an attorney about the best option for you and your family.