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U.S. Aviation Accidents Law Blog

Understanding aviation product liability

New York residents who board any type of aircraft expect the plane to be safe and get them where they are going without incident. Air travel is a necessity for both business and pleasure travelers today, and the public expects such travel to be safe. notes that should the unthinkable occur and the plane crashes, the manufacturer of the plane and/or of one or more of its component parts can be held strictly liable for any mechanical failure(s) that contributed to the crash. Strict liability does not require any proof of negligence on the part of the pilot or crew of the plane. Rather it requires the judge and jury to look at the design and manufacture of the plane and its parts.

Recent trends in helicopter safety

At Kreindler & Kreindler, LLP, we understand that helicopter travel is a way of life for many New York residents. Whether you rely on a company helicopter, one that is privately owned, or one that is commercially available, your life and safety depend on the machine itself and the skill of its pilot.

The good news is that U.S. helicopter accident rates are decreasing. The Federal Aviation Administration reports that 106 helicopter accidents occurred in 2016, of which 17 involved fatalities. This is 12 percent lower than the 2015 numbers and 27 percent lower than in 2013.

Risks of automation: a familiar issue in the aviation industry

Automation is in increasing feature in many areas of life, including personal transportation. In a recent post on this blog, we noted that one of the safety improvements made in the aviation industry over the years has been to ensure pilots are trained in manual operation of airplanes so as to avoid accidents arising from overreliance on automation.

A recent article looked at the increase in automation in motor vehicles and what the automobile industry and regulators could learn from the experience of the aviation industry when it comes to automation. As the article points out, the experience of the aviation industry is that while automation has resulted in increased productivity, safety, efficiency and reliability, it has certainly not eliminated all safety risks. This is true for two reasons. 

Safety improvements in aviation industry driven by lessons learned in accidents, mishaps, P.2

Previously, we began looking at an article discussing some of the important changes in the aviation industry and how they came about. As we noted, many of the beneficial changes in the use of materials, design, manufacturing, features, inspections and maintenance, came about because of lessons learned from aviation accidents.

The same is true for changes in the way pilots and crew members are trained to do their job. A couple examples of this are the industry’s return to manual training in an effort to correct over-dependence on automation, as well as the development of Cockpit Resource Management, which implemented teamwork and communication among crew members—as opposed to giving the captain complete authority—as an industry standard. Both of these changes have contributed to ongoing improvements. 

Safety improvements in aviation industry driven by lessons learned in accidents, mishaps, P.1

A recent article in popular mechanics highlights an important point about the state of modern aviation: it was often the lessons learned from high profile airplane crashes that prompted manufacturers and regulators to make change that improved aviation safety. The accumulation of these changes is what has made aviation a safer way to travel.

The article tracks a number of changes in the aviation industry resulting from “lessons learned.” Some of the changes to the industry involved improvements in materials, design, and manufacturing and features. One important set of changes involved improving communication between aircraft and air traffic controllers. These changes included upgrading the air traffic control system, requiring small aircraft to use transponders to communicate their coordinates with air traffic controllers, and requiring airliners to have collision avoidance-avoidance systems. 

Pursuing a claim under the FTCA for military aviation accident injuries

In our last post, we noted that there are significant limitations on active duty military members’ ability to seek compensation from the federal government for losses in aviation accidents. Active duty service members may not be able to file lawsuits for damages in many circumstances, but they should work with an experienced aviation law attorney to understand when they may have the right to sue.

For civilians, veterans and military dependants, the ability to recover damages in connection with a military aviation accident is less narrow. Under the Federal Tort Claims Act, an injured party as the right to sue the federal government for damages, including personal injury and wrongful death. In order to pursue a claim under the law, though, a party must first exhaust any administrative remedies with the agency responsible for causing the harm. 

Marines discontinue use of aircraft fleet after worst accident in decade

Last month, a military aircraft crashed in Mississippi and killed 16 individuals, making for one of the worst aviation accidents the Marines have experienced in over 10 years. According to reports, the aircraft apparently broke apart at cruising altitude. According to an anonymous pilot, the aircraft broke into two parts in front of the wings. The cause of the aircraft’s dismemberment is still unknown.

Shortly after that accident, the Marine Corps announced that it would be discontinuing flights of its KC-130T aircrafts indefinitely. The KC-130T cargo plane has been around since 1983, and gained a reputation during the Cold War era as one of the most reliable aircraft in military use. The aircraft is mostly used for transporting cargo and fuel. 

Are government accident reports admissible as evidence at trial? P.3

We’ve been looking in recent posts at the admissibility of government accident reports as evidence in court. This is an important issue not only in aviation accidents involving personal injury and wrongful death claims, but also in those involving product liability claims. In aviation accident litigation involving any of these types of claims, the information contained in a government accident report can be potentially valuable for plaintiffs.

We’ve already pointed out that factuality and trustworthiness are two important requirements for the admission into evidence of findings contained in government accident reports. The factuality requirement excludes the admission of legal conclusions, and trustworthiness excludes findings which are compromised due to factors like lack of timeliness in the investigation, improper motive or bias, and lack of special skill or experience necessary to conduct an accurate investigation. 

Are government accident reports admissible as evidence at trial? P.2

In our previous post, we began looking at the potential usefulness of government accident reports for victims of airline crashes. These reports can sometimes be used to the benefit of crash victims, but there are certain issues that have to be taken into consideration with respect to the admissibility of these reports into evidence at trial.

The first issue, as we mentioned last time, is the factuality of the contents of the report. While factual findings and statements that follow from them are admissible, legal conclusions are not. This includes judicial or jury findings. The deference that would normally be given to such findings is one of the reasons for the admissibility of these statements. 

Are government accident reports admissible as evidence at trial?

For victims of aviation accidents, whether injured passengers or surviving family members, building a strong personal injury, wrongful death or product liability case requires solid evidence of liability, whether on the part of the airline, airplane manufacturers, suppliers, maintenance contractors or any other party that contributed to the crash.  

Building solid factual support for claims in an aviation accident case requires not only diligence in seeking out sources of reliable information about the accident, but also knowing how to deal with both favorable and unfavorable evidence in the context of aviation litigation. One area where this is particularly important is in dealing with government aviation accident reports. 

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