Seattle Personal Injury Attorney | Airplane Accident Injury Claims

Many factors must be considered when analyzing airport or airplane accidents; our Seattle Personal Injury Attorney has compiled the list below.

  • Where did the air travel accident occur? Was the flight international or traveling over international waters? Which law applies: state, federal, and/or international treaty?
  • Was the accident the result of inadequate or improper maintenance, design or manufacturing defects, inadequate or improper de-icing, and/or inadequate or improper pilot training or pilot error?
  • Did the accident occur on the ground, during flight, or take-off or landing?
  • Was the flight commercial, private charter, military?
  • Was weather a factor: storms, wind, turbulence, visibility issues? Was it forecasted or predictable?

Injury or death related to airport or airplane travel involves complex issues of both fact and law.

The basis for air travel accident liability will of course depend on the facts of the case.

Air travel accident liability has been found, for example, pilot error and improper de-icing[1], for flying into thick clouds shortly after takeoff without obtaining additional weather information[2]; pilot error for making too many turns while the airplane was in spin[3]; making a turn with gear and flaps extended[4]; flying too low[5]; or failure to maintain prescribed altitude[6], failure to keep a proper lookout,[7] or other pilot error or personal error.[8]

Weather is a factor in many air travel injury cases. For example, flying an airplane in turbulence or extreme weather conditions, landing in extreme weather conditions, or failure to warn with “fasten seat belt” or other appropriate warnings may lead to airline liability.[9]

However, airport and airline responsibility for injury or death on a domestic flight is not strict liability or “automatic”. The person presenting an injury or wrongful death claim must prove that the errors or omissions of the airline, airport, or other defendant were the proximate cause of the accident and resulting injury or death.[10] For example, if weather was not forecast or predictable this may defeat any claim for resulting injury.[11]

There may be many parties responsible for an air travel accident resulting in injury including an airport, airline, airplane manufacturer, air traffic controllers, ground crew, and/or flight crew.

For international flights between most countries the Montreal Convention applies. Under this treaty the airline is strictly liable for any injury claim up to a capped amount, currently about $170,000. For damages that exceed that amount, the airline may defend a personal injury claim by asserting it was not negligent.

The facts of the accident in addition to involving many potential defendants may involve complex legal issues as to which law applies. This is important because the outcome of a case may depend on difference in the law of negligence in one jurisdiction compared to another. Attorneys refer to this legal issue as conflict of laws.

This short description of issues involved in evaluating an air travel accident claim is not a substitute for legal advice. For advice about your circumstances consult a Seattle Personal Injury Attorney.

[1] In Re Air Crash Disaster at Stapleton Int’l Airport, Denver, Colo., on Nov. 15, 1987, 720 F. Supp. 1493, 1496 (D. Colo. 1989).

[2] De Vere v. True-Flite, Inc., 268 F. Supp. 226, (E.D.N.C. 1967).

[3] Bruce v. O’Neal Flying Service, 231 N.C. 181, 56 SE2d 560 (1949).

[4] Vigderman v. United States, 175 F. Supp. 802, (E.D. Pa. 1959).

[5] Tinkler v. United States By F.A.A., 700 F. Supp. 1067 (D. Kan. 1989).

[6] Union Trust Co. v. Eastern Airlines, 350 U.S. 907 (1956).

[7] George v. American Airlines, Inc., 295 F.2d 311, (7th Cir. 1961).

[8] See for example, Hillary v. Transworld Airlines, 123 F.2d 1041 (8th Cir. 1997); Continental Airlines, Inc., Kiefer, 920 S.W.2d 274 (Tex. 1996).

[9] See for example, Fleming v. Delta Airlines, 359 F. Supp. 339 (S.D.N.Y. 1973); Bradfield v. Transworld Airlines, Inc., 88 Cal. App.3d 681, 152 Cal. Rptr. 172 (1979); Eastern Airlines, Inc. v. Silber, 324 F.2d 38 (5th Cir. 1963); Ness v. West Coast Airlines, Inc., 90 Idaho 111, 410 P.2d 965 (1965); In Re Air Crash Disaster, 635 F.2d 67 (2nd Cir. 1980).

[10] See In Re Air Crash at Dallas/Fort Worth Airport on Aug. 2, 1985, 919 F.2d 1079, (5th Cir. 1991); Bernard v. Cessna Aircraft Corp., 614 F.2d 1075 (5th Cir. 1980). But see Orefice v. Albert, 237 So.2d 142, (Fla. 1970).

[11] Kelly v. American Airlines, Inc., 508 F.2d 1379 (5th Cir. 1975); Schultz v. American Airlines, Inc., 901 F.2d 621, (7th Cir. 1990);