Air ambulances can be a lifesaving blessing to those who are injured or who fall ill in an area that is distant from the medical facilities they need to help them. This reality renders it all the more tragic when an air ambulance accident kills or injures the very person it was designed to save (along with the pilot and paramedics on board). When this happens, the law allows injured parties and relatives of those whose lives were snuffed out to recover compensation for their losses, at least to the extent that money is able to compensate them.
Causes of Air Ambulance Accidents
Although most air ambulances are helicopters (due to their ability to hover and their superior maneuverability), planes are also used to evacuate victims. Some of the most common causes of air ambulance accidents include:
- An aircraft design or manufacturing defect
- Inclement weather combined with time pressure, leading to poor decision-making
- Poor aircraft maintenance (the aircraft had not been adequately refueled, for example)
- Inadequate oversight of air ambulance programs by sponsoring hospitals
- Poor pilot training
- Overloaded aircraft
- Two or more of the foregoing causes.
Types of Legal Claims
Air ambulance claims are usually resolved under one of two legal theories – negligence and product liability.
Negligence: Negligence is a legal term that essentially means “carelessness”. In a negligence claim, you assert that the defendant failed to meet his legal duty of care towards the victim, thereby causing the accident. A professional is held to a higher standard of care than others — a medevac helicopter pilot, for example, will be held to a professional standard of care regardless of his actual ability. In other words, a professional cannot escape liability by claiming to have been inadequately trained. A violation of medevac regulations, for example, will go a long way towards establishing a negligence claim.
Product Liability: In a product liability claim, you allege that the air ambulance caused the accident due an unreasonably dangerous condition that arose from a design defect, a manufacturing defect or a warning defect – a defectively designed rotor blade, for example, or a defectively manufactured warning light. Although product liability law varies from state to state, in all states you can file a claim against anyone in the chain of distribution of the aircraft, and you do not even have to show that the defendant was personally at fault in order to win.
Damage awards (whether by courtroom verdict or out-of-court settlement) tend to be large in air ambulance cases, because death and serious injury are common results. Damages are broken down into discrete elements, and as a plaintiff you must prove your eligibility for each of them.
Personal Injury Damages: In a personal injury case, the victim can recover for past, present and future medical expenses; lost work time; incidental expenses; physical suffering; and even “mental anguish” if the accident resulted in long-term disability. Damages for intangible losses such as physical suffering can dwarf the amount of damages awarded for tangible losses such as medical expenses.
Wrongful Death: Unfortunately, death is the most common result of air ambulance accidents. Depending on state law, close relatives of the victim can be awarded wrongful death damages that might cover burial and funeral expenses; medical expenses for the victim; the victim’s pain and suffering; the relative’s loss of financial support, and psychological losses suffered by the relative such as grief and loss of companionship.
Filing Your Claim
You can pursue an air ambulance accident claim in two ways – by seeking settlement with the defendant, or by filing a lawsuit. In either case, you will have to prove your claim with convincing evidence and sound legal reasoning. You may even have to file a lawsuit to motivate the defendant to settle on reasonable terms. In either case, the assistance of a skilled aviation lawyer is likely to help you achieve a more favorable result.