Travel by airplane has steadily increased over the past decade, and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) believes that the trend will continue. In fact, the FAA projects that airline travel will nearly double over the next two decades. By the year 2032, it is estimated that the number of people flying commercially on airlines in the United States will increase to more than 1.2 billion.
Airplane Crash Statistics
While there are millions of routine flights that take place each year, some flights do not reach their destination safely. In fact, an article in CNN, published in 2014, shares a graph of the number of aviation deaths per year, worldwide. In 2013, there were 265 people killed in flight incidents, but in 2014, that number skyrocketed to 761.
Airplanes are Common Carriers
The fact is, flying from or into Sacramento – or anywhere else – is usually problem-free, but not always. And while airplanes are common carriers, and therefore have a high duty of care to ensure that their passengers arrive at their destination without complication, sometimes negligence occurs. When this is the case, and an airplane crash occurs, seeking compensation as a surviving victim or a surviving family member is possible.
Negligence in Air Travel
Here is a video that illustrates how devastating negligence can be:Negligence and Airplane Crashes
Most airplane crashes happen because of an act of negligence. Some of the common causes of an airplane include:
- Pilot error. Pilot error may be the cause behind around 50 percent of plane crashes. In fact, a flight into terrain - which refers to a situation where a pilot leads a plane into mountains, the ground, water, or another surface – commonly happens because the pilot makes an error. For example, a pilot may turn off automatic systems (such as terrain awareness and warning systems) in belief that the system is malfunctioning, may be distracted by conversations with others in the cockpit, may be intoxicated or impaired, may be overly fatigued, may accidentally hit certain switches (like turning autopilot off or to a particular setting), or may be improperly trained. In regards to the latter, an improperly trained pilot may be naïve or ignorant about certain situations, such as how to properly read and interpret gas levels (in fact, a plane has even crashed in the past – resulting in loss of life – because a pilot unintentionally allowed the plane to run out of fuel).
- Mechanical errors. Mechanical errors that are significant enough to lead to a plane crash are less common than are human errors on the part of the pilot, but they still do occur. Typically, a mechanical error is the result of a defectively designed or manufactured airplane part, or a lack of maintenance or proper repair of a damaged or broken part. For example, one of the deadliest crashes in history is that of Japan Airlines flight, which crashed and killed 520 people as a result of a poorly repaired pressure bulkhead, which ruptured in flight.
- Other errors and acts of negligence. In addition to pilot errors and mechanical errors, it is also possible for other parties to act carelessly. For example, an airplane crash may be caused as a result of a combination of poor weather and the incompetence of air traffic control personnel. For example, an airline company or pilot making a decision to authorize a flight when a severe storm warning has been issued is unreasonable, and may lead to a crash. In some cases, a combination of mechanical error and human failure may occur, i.e. a part fails on the plane, and the pilot responds to the failure in a negligent manner, failing to exercise the proper level of skill and care required by the situation.
As a note, some airplane crashes are caused by unforeseeable factors, such as weather or intentional sabotage and acts of terrorism.
Flight 1549 Hudson River Landing
Check out this video of the Flight 1549 landing on the Hudson. When the plane’s engines failed as a result of a bird strike, the pilot acted quickly to land the plane safely in the river, saving the lives of all 155 passengers on board.
Water Landing - Hawaii
And here is another video of water landing of an airplane in Hawaii, with the entire crash caught on tape by one of the passengers. Please note that the video below is somewhat graphic and may invoke fear in some viewers.Getting to the Bottom of What Happened – Airplane Crash Investigations
When an airplane crash occurs, an investigation is immediately opened to determine exactly what went wrong, whether or not the airplane crash could have been prevented, and what factors contributed to the crash. Airplane crash investigations are often a laborious and lengthy process, and may take weeks, months, or even years to fully conduct. The FAA is responsible for managing these investigations, and will often work with other investigative bodies, particularly if the crash occurs over other countries or in international waters.
The investigation process can involve painstaking forensics. In addition to gathering pieces of the plane itself, which may be missing, investigators must also search for missing persons, and identify these persons upon location. Further, cell phone logs, security reports, maintenance and repair reports, pilot and flight logs, weather reports, plane reconstruction reports, air traffic control information, an examination of the plane’s engine and engine accessories, a plane systems review, an investigation into human performance, and more must all be collected or conducted, organized, and analyzed.Is a Lawsuit Possible?
As discussed above, plane accidents occur for myriad reasons, but most plane accidents are preventable and would not occur but for human or mechanical error, the latter of which is almost always preventable but for human error, too. When an act of negligence – the failure to exercise the reasonable degree of care demanded by a situation – is the cause of a crash, any victims or their surviving family members have the right to pursue legal action against the at-fault party.
Determining Liability and Proving Negligence
While filing a lawsuit is possible, determining liability and proving negligence can be very difficult to do. This is especially true if an airplane crash investigation has not yet been completed, and the cause of the crash has yet to be determined. Further, because there may be more than one party liable, knowing exactly against whom to file a claim can be confusing. For example, consider an instance where a plane’s engine fails, and the plane crashes, leading to passenger injuries or death. When this is the case, those who may potentially be held liable include, but are not limited to:
- The manufacturer of the engine, if the plaintiff can prove that the engine was defectively designed or defectively manufactured;
- The airline company, if the engine would not have failed but for the company’s failure to perform necessary maintenance;
- A repair or maintenance company, if repair/maintenance was ordered but was improperly performed;
- The pilot, if upon the engine failure, the pilot acted with negligence by failing to take action that could have resulted in the plane’s safe landing; or/and
- The airline company, if the pilot is to blame for the crash and the pilot is the employee of the company, who will assume liability for the pilot’s actions based on the employee-employer relationship.
If, as the plaintiff, you can prove negligence and liability, you will have the right to recover damages for your losses. Some of the damages that may be available in your claim include, but are not limited to, compensation for:
- Loss of companionship, guidance, and consortium. If you lost a loved one in a plane crash that would not have occurred but for negligence, you may be able to recover compensation for the loss of companionship, guidance, and consortium of the deceased.
- Loss of earning capacity, wages, and benefits. Whether you are injured yourself and are unable to work, or you are filing your claim because you have lost a family member, you have the right to seek economic damages for the loss of earning capacity, wages, or other monetary benefits that you would have received but for your injury or loss of your (income earning) loved one.
- Medical bills, funeral, and burial expenses. Treating injuries sustained in an airplane crash can be very expensive, as can the funeral or burial expenses associated with the death of a loved one. You have the right to seek compensation for all of these losses in a airplane crash lawsuit.
- Pain, suffering, and emotional anguish. The losses sustained in a plane crash are not always purely economic or physical in nature; they can often be psychological or emotional as well. Compensation is available for noneconomic losses, and you have the right to seek damages that are reflective of the monetary value of your pain, suffering, and emotional anguish and psychological harm.
Statute of Limitations
There are many legal considerations to keep in mind when filing a lawsuit after a Sacramento airplane crash, including the statute of limitations. The statute of limitations is the time limit that you have for bringing forth a claim against a defendant. The specific statute that applies in your case will vary depending upon against whom you are filing suit.
If you are filing a lawsuit against an airline company in California, then you will have two years from the date of injury (date of crash) to bring forth your claim.
Claims Against the Federal Government – You Only Have 6 Months
However, if you are filing a claim against the federal government, which is possible in the event that a federal employee contributed to or caused the crash (i.e. a flight service station employee or air traffic control employee), then your claim is regulated under the Federal Tort Claims Act. While the claim is still subject to the two year statute of limitations, there are some other rules that must be considered. For example, you have two years to file your administrative claim, and the agency against which you are filing the claim has six months to respond. From the date of response, you only have six months to file your lawsuit (assuming the federal agency rejects your claim or refuses to pay all of the damages you claim).
For a person who is not trained in the law, the requirements under the Federal Tort Claims Act, and statutes of limitation in general, can be very confusing.What to Do If You Are Involved in a Sacramento Airplane Crash
If you are involved in a Sacramento airplane crash, or if you lose a loved one in an airplane crash, it is important that you take action immediately. While an investigation will be opened to determine the cause of the crash regardless, the clock on the statute of limitations to file your claim is ticking. The sooner that you act, the better your chances are of recovering the compensation you deserve.
Seeking Immediate Medical Attention
The very first thing that you should do is to seek medical care. Document this care thoroughly, as well as the extent of your pain, disability, and other limitations. Keep a journal of your life after the accident.
Contact an Experienced Sacramento Airplane Crash Attorney
As soon as you are physically able to do so, you should contact an attorney who is experienced in representing the victims of Sacramento airplane crashes. Remember, determining liability can be tricky; an attorney can prove especially helpful during this complicated process.
I’m Ed Smith, a Sacramento Airplane Crash Attorney. If you or a member of your family has been injured or killed in a plane crash, please call me today at 916.921.6400 for free, friendly advice. You can also reach me online here.
I work with a number of other professionals and experts throughout Sacramento and California to improve each client’s chances of recovering the compensation they deserve for their medical bills, pain, suffering, lost wages, and more.
If you are harmed due to the negligence of someone else, I truly want to help.
I have been practicing personal injury law exclusively for more than 33 years. I’ve helped countless families recover compensation for their personal injuries and wrongful death claims.
We are California members of Million Dollar Advocates Forum.
Look at my successful lawsuits on my Past Verdicts and Settlements Page.
Image Attribution: Photo taken and used with permission of: Gabriel Widyna (https://www.airliners.net/open.file/0975371/M/) [Images in the Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons