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U.S. Aviation Accidents Law Blog

NTSB investigators among critics of Clint Eastwood film, Sully

New York readers remember that, in 2009, a US Airways airplane made an emergency landing in the Hudson River with 155 passengers aboard. Remarkably, the accident resulted in no deaths, and only minor injuries for a small group of passengers. One of the reasons the landing was so successful is that the pilot was so skillful in executing the emergency landing.

Following the accident, the National Transportation Safety Board conducted a routine investigation in which it was determined that a flock of birds had gotten caught in both engines minutes after takeoff, causing them to lose power. 

A brief look at NTSB aircraft accident investigations, their relationship to accident litigation, P.

Last time, we began looking at some features of the process the National Transportation Safety Board uses when investigating aircraft accidents. As we noted, the specific manner in which aircraft accidents are investigated depends on the nature of the accident. Whatever avenue is taken for investigation, though, any findings made in the process do not determine legal liability and cannot be used as evidence in court.

This is an important point, since much of the information gathered in NTSB investigations is quite valuable in personal injury and wrongful death litigation. Is none of it admissible at trial, then? The important distinction to make is that while the NTSB’s probable cause findings and recommendations to prevent future accidents are not admissible, its factual reports generally are admissible. This means that plaintiffs may make use of these findings to support personal injury and wrongful death claims. 

A brief look at NTSB aircraft accident investigations, their relationship to accident litigation

Previously, we noted that those who suffer loss in small aircraft accidents should pay close attention to the investigative work that occurs after the accident. The National Transportation Safety Board is one of the primary agencies responsible for investigating aircraft accidents. When the NTSB investigates an accident, it looks to determine the probable cause(s) and to make safety recommendations to prevent similar accidents from occurring in the future.

Once the NTSB is notified of an aviation accident, the agency makes an initial assessment of the accident and determines which type of investigation is appropriate. There are four general types of investigation that the agency conducts. In cases involving non-injury general aviation accidents in which there are no apparent airworthiness issues, the operator self-reports the circumstances of the accident. If there are no fatalities, the NTSB may conduct a limited investigation, which involves delegating the investigation to the Federal Aviation Administration and performs an analysis on its findings. 

Small plane manufacturer facing numerous lawsuits over alleged design defect, P.2

In our last post, we began looking at the ongoing litigation against a Florida-based small aircraft manufacturer accused of defectively designing stabilator wings and causing numerous accidents as a result. As we noted, the manufacturer denies the allegations of defective design, and points to the federal government’s blaming the accidents on other factors in official reports as evidence that defective design is not the problem.

Attorneys involved the litigation say, however, that federal regulators aren’t independent enough from the aircraft manufacturing industry in the investigation of general aviation accidents to come to unbiased conclusions about the causes of accidents. Because manufacturers are too involved in the process, they say, there is always going to be a bias toward concluding that accidents are caused by pilot errors.

Small plane manufacturer facing numerous lawsuits over alleged design defect, P.1

We’ve previously written on this blog about small aircraft accidents, and the fact that a certain percentage of these accidents are caused by design defects. The types of defects that lead to small aircraft accidents vary, depending on the manufacturer. Some of these defects can really put consumers at risk.

Right now, Piper Aircraft, Inc., a manufacturer of small aircraft based out of Florida, is facing a number of lawsuits over just such a design defect. According to the plaintiffs bringing the lawsuits, hundreds of the manufacturer’s aircrafts have broken up in midflight, leading to injuries and fatalities. Piper has settled a number of lawsuits involving the allegations, but on the condition that the parties keep the settlement details confidential. 

Work with experienced attorney to recover damages from airline security breaches

In our last post, we began looking at new U.S. security rules prohibiting airline passengers from bringing large electronic devices in their carry-on baggage. As we noted, the rules are largely aimed at addressing the threat of terrorism. Airlines, of course, have the duty to put into place security measures which comply with all federal safety regulations and which are effective at addressing threats.

Safety regulations are aimed not only at protecting passengers from terrorism, but from other criminal activity as well. An airline’s failure to abide by established safety regulations not only puts passengers at risk, but also opens up the airline to liability for harm to passengers. 

New electronics security rules to impact flights to, from certain foreign nations

Security is an important issue in the airline industry, and has been a particularly important issue since 2001. Airlines have implemented a number of changes to tighten up security in airports and on flights. The changes have proved to be an inconvenience that most people are largely willing to put up with in order to fly. Not that there is much of a choice, of course.

One of the areas where security will soon change is with electronics use. Recently, The Department of Homeland Security and the Transportation Security Administration announced new rules which prohibit passengers from brining large electronic devices in their cabin baggage. Such devices will have to be kept in checked baggage once the rules go into effect. 

What is the Montreal Convention and what rights does it confer on passengers? P.2

In our last post, we began looking at the Montreal Convention, which is one of the laws governing liability for international airline accidents. As we noted, the law imposes liability for damages resulting from the death or injury of passengers, compensating the latter with special drawing rights. Airlines are not able to limit liability if the damages do not exceed that amount.  

Airlines are, however, not liable for damages exceeding 100 000 Special Drawing Rights per passenger to the extent that the airline can show that the damage was not caused by the negligence or wrongful acts or omissions of the airline or its employees.  

What is the Montreal Convention and what rights does it confer on passengers?

One of the laws governing international air carrier liability is the Montreal Convention, an international treaty struck in 1999 which applies to all international carriage of baggage or cargo for compensation. The treaty applies both to businesses, governments and to “legally constituted public bodies.”  

The Montreal Convention makes aircraft carriers liable for damages and loss of checked baggage, as well as death or bodily injury to passengers, but there are conditions for liability to apply, as well as limitations on liability. 

Liability for hot air balloon accidents not always as clear as with ordinary aircraft, P.2

Previously, we began looking at the topic of liability for hot air balloon accidents. One interesting point our readers may not be aware of is that hot air balloons are technically considered to be “aircraft” and are regulated accordingly. Operation of hot air balloons is regulated by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration, which has established standards concerning airworthiness, maintenance, rebuilding, alteration, operating and flight rules.

As we noted last time, hot air balloon accidents are relatively rare compared to accidents involving other aircraft, and the lack of case law on the matter is part of the reason clearly establishing liability can be difficult.

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