In 2018, aviation accidents resulted in 561 fatalities. While this may seem like a large number (and it is), this is actually a positive decline since 2006, which saw 905 deaths due to air traffic failures.
Whether you’re an aviation attorney or not, the basic knowledge of aviation law is essential in case you do have the misfortune of directly or indirectly being involved in an aviation accident.
So here’s an overview of some of the key factors you need to know surrounding aviation law in the United States of America.
Regulatory Authorities and Applicable Legislations
In the U.S.A, air travel regulations and operations are largely governed by the Federal Aviation Administration (F.A.A) and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). Both of these bodies are independent of each other.
The former is an extension of the U.S government and responsible for regulating air safety. The latter is an independent federal agency that investigates airplane and train accidents. Sometimes they also study issues of national importance.
Aviation law is primarily sourced from Federal Regulations (CFR) and the United States Code (USC).
Air Safety & Licensing
Air safety regulates airports, air traffic, and commercial space transportation. To hold an operation license, an air carrier needs:
- An economic license (issued by the Department of Transportation)
- A safety license (issued by the Federal Aviation Administration)
International Travel & The Montreal Convention
The Montreal Convention took effect in 2003. It applies to most cases of aviation accidents occurring during international travel. According to this convention, if death or injury of the passenger occurs while onboard the air carrier will be liable for such injury.
The Right to Sue: Accidents in Aviation
More often than not, an aviation accident will result in mass injuries, or in more unfortunate circumstances, death.
The right to sue rests not only with the injured party but also with their relations. Their spouses, next of kin, legal guardians and others who experience some form of emotional harm may also sue.
While the nuances of such laws may vary from state to state, as a rule of thumb, the following may be applicable in most aviation accidents.
- One may sue for loss of support suffered due to his/her spouse’s injury (emotional, monetary or otherwise).
- In the absence of such a spouse, the son(s) and/or daughter(s) may sue.
- In the absence of both, the parents of the affected individual may sue.
- The siblings follow suit, in the absence of parents.
Most plaintiffs are entitled to financial/ monetary damages. These damages might often cover the loss of future and current earnings, medical expenses and the consequences of the injury on the body.
Where the individual suffers from permanent disfigurement, s/he would be given a larger compensation. This takes into account a more significant impact on his/her future earnings and loss of livelihood.
Certain states may also allow for corresponding damages in the form of non-economic damages. These are becoming especially common in cases that involve wrongful deaths.
Analyzing Liability in Aviation Law
Of course, the liability would be subjective and would have to be identified on a case-by-case basis. Commonly in these cases, the parties affected by such injury can bring a lawsuit against:
- The airlines
- The manufacturers of the aircraft in question
- The pilot
- A maintenance provider
- The government
In case of any questionable behavior identified by another relevant third party, they would be held accountable upon investigation. Your instinct ought to be to identify whether the accident was caused due to:
- Unforeseeable circumstances, or
- Willful/ avoidable negligence
One of the key factors to keep in mind while pursuing any litigation is time limitations. While any accident that results in any harm to anyone, is nothing short of tragic, the corresponding legalities may not be merciful.
While dealing with an aviation accident, the two major deadlines to keep in mind are the statutes of limitations and the statute of repose.
Statute of Limitation
In these cases, a statute of limitations may prevent you from filing a lawsuit against the relevant defendants. So it is best that you consult a specialist attorney as soon as you can.
This statute of limitations may differ based on individual circumstances, jurisdictions and the type of aviation accident in question. In cases where the Montreal Convention is applicable, the limitation period is up to two years since the aviation accident. But, cases that involve negligence on the part of a government authority may be subjected to tighter deadlines.
The Statute of Repose
Now the statute of limitations imposes a constraint on filing a lawsuit in general. The statute of repose is a limitation placed in the protection of a manufacturer.
The statute of repose was set into effect by the General Aviation Revitalization Act (GARA) of 1994. It stated that airplanes or airplane parts that have been in use for eighteen years or longer cannot be held accountable for any aviation accident.
This act is applicable in most states but allows for two exceptions.
- Where the Statute of Repose specifies that the liability period is lower than eighteen years
- Where the manufacturer in question conceals or misrepresents defects to its customers.
Aviation Law & Other Disputes
While this article discusses aviation law in the context of aviation accidents, it isn’t the only dispute that might occur. Other milder issues include loss of baggage and delays in flights.
Whatever your flight plights happen to be, unless you are a specialized aviation attorney, you’re better off hiring one!
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