Aviation accidents are less common than car accidents, but when they happen, the outcome can be catastrophic. In Georgia, small planes or helicopters account for virtually all aviation crashes, and negligence is almost always the cause.
But not all aviation accidents are crashes—some involve passengers being injured while boarding or disembarking the plane, falling at the airport or hangar, or being struck by objects during flight. These types of accidents may be less serious than a plane crash, but they can still cause severe injuries with lasting effects.
If you’ve been injured in any type of aviation accident that is not your fault, you may have a legal claim against the pilot, aircraft manufacturer, air traffic controller, or other responsible parties.
Aviation Injury Accidents Are Often Catastrophic
Statistically speaking, you’re safer traveling by air than by car. However, even though plane accidents are far less common, they can be far more catastrophic because of the nature of air travel.
When an aircraft falls from a high distance off the ground, the impact often causes the structure to collapse, which may strike and kill passengers instantly. Aircraft also travel at high speeds, so collisions with mountains, trees, buildings, or other aircraft can be equally deadly. Victims may also become trapped in the wreckage and die of fire, drowning, or traumatic asphyxia.
But air crashes aren’t the only way people can be injured in an aviation accident. Aircraft can collide with other aircraft, vehicles, or people on the ground as well. Depending on the size of the aircraft and the speed it was traveling, these accidents can also result in serious injury or death.
Most catastrophic accidents happen because of pilot error, mechanical failure, air traffic controller mistakes, and inclement weather. Pilot error is the most common cause, as it takes a skilled and experienced pilot to execute safe takeoffs and landings, respond to mechanical problems, and navigate the aircraft through bad weather conditions.
Types of Aviation Accidents That Happen in Georgia
The vast majority of aviation accidents in Georgia—and everywhere else in the United States—involve small, private aircraft. However, aviation accidents can include any incident that causes injury or property damage that happens during a flight or at an airport. The following are some examples:
- Commercial aviation accidents. Though rare, accidents involving commercial aircraft typically cause catastrophic injuries and death.
- General aviation accidents. The most common type of aviation accident involves small private, corporate, or charter aircraft.
- Helicopter accidents. These accidents typically involve corporate, private, or medical helicopters.
- In-flight accidents. Injuries from in-flight accidents may occur when passengers on board a plane are thrown about during turbulence or hit by objects from the overhead bin.
- Airport accidents. Injuries caused by falls, collisions, or equipment malfunction can occur when passengers are boarding or disembarking from an aircraft or are waiting at the terminal.
- Recreational aircraft. People may suffer grave injuries when participating in recreational activities, such as skydiving, riding in hot-air balloons, or operating a glider.
Types of Aviation Accident Negligence That Can Lead to a Successful Personal Injury Claim
Almost any time a plane crashes, there will be a presumption of negligence as long as these criteria are met:
- the type of accident does not ordinarily occur absent some kind of negligence,
- the accident was caused by an agency or instrumentality with the defendant’s exclusive control, and
- the accident was not caused by any action of the plaintiff.
When it comes to plane crashes, the most common cause of accidents is pilot negligence. To fly a plane responsibly, a pilot must manage multiple complex tasks at once, including:
- taking off
- taxiing on the runway
- looking out for other aircraft, vehicles, and people
- monitoring fuel levels and aircraft controls
- maintaining proper speed, altitude, and direction
- communicating with air traffic controllers
- advising passengers about turbulence or other dangerous conditions
- anticipating and troubleshooting inclement weather conditions
When a pilot lacks the training and experience necessary to operate an aircraft or fails to perform their duties with necessary care, they may be found negligent for causing an accident. If the pilot is an employee of a commercial or general aviation company, the company can also be held liable for pilot negligence.
Other common types of negligence include improper maintenance of the aircraft or mechanical failure caused by some defect or faulty part. If the company or owner is responsible for failing to properly maintain the aircraft, they can be held liable for negligence. If the accident was caused by defects in the design or manufacture of the aircraft or its components, the manufacturer may be held liable. Air traffic controllers or ground crew members can also be held liable for mistakes that lead to plane crashes.
Crashes are not the only type of accident that can cause injuries, however. Passengers may suffer injuries during a flight because a flight attendant failed to secure the overhead bin or the beverage cart or because the pilot failed to warn them about turbulence. People can also fall and become injured because of dangerous conditions at the airport or hangar, or while boarding or disembarking an aircraft—which may give rise to a premises liability claim.
How Aviation Insurance Coverage Works in Georgia
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has high insurance requirements for commercial air carriers, whether operating in the U.S. or internationally, and most airlines carry more than is required by law. However, there are no federal insurance requirements for general aviation aircraft or pilots, a category that includes all aircraft other than commercial air carriers. Most states, including Georgia, also do not require general aviation aircraft or pilots to carry insurance.
While there are no federal or state regulations requiring insurance, fixed base operators (FBOs) usually require that any aircraft using their facilities be insured. FBOs are private plane and jet terminals where aircraft take off and land. Not all major airports have FBOs; many FBOs operate at small airports and hangars. Without proof of insurance, an aircraft may be denied landing permits.
The amount of insurance you need to operate a general aviation aircraft depends on the type of operations you need covered. For example, aircraft owners should have comprehensive insurance that covers all passengers on board as well as the aircraft in the hangar, on the ground, and in the air. Comprehensive coverage includes bodily injury to passengers and others, damage to personal property, and aircraft damage liability.
Part owners, renters, and pilots flying aircraft they don’t own should also carry insurance to cover medical payments, injury liability, and property damage. Any business that operates general aviation aircraft will need comprehensive coverage to be protected from legal claims arising from an accident.
According to U.S. government data, between 80 and 90 percent of general aviation aircraft owners have some level of liability insurance, with the majority purchasing $100,000 per passenger and $1,000,000 per accident in coverage.
Five Reasons Why You Should Hire a Lawyer For Your Aviation Accident Claim
Can Pilots or Their Family Members Bring a Personal Injury Claim?
In some cases, yes. Pilots, whether operating a commercial aircraft or a private plane, owe a general duty of care to passengers to operate within commonly accepted standard practices.
It is impossible to describe every possible situation, but in some instances if the accident was caused by a factor other than pilot error, a pilot or their surviving family may have a claim for personal injury or wrongful death claim or a claim for workers compensation. For example, if a defective condition of the aircraft caused the accident, the pilot or their family may have a legal claim against the manufacturer or other business in the chain of distribution or maintenance.
Call The Millar Law Firm for a Free Consultation
If you were injured in an aviation accident, call The Millar Law Firm today at (770) 400-0000 or contact us online to set up a free consultation.