Although most plane crashes are caused by pilot error, not all are. An airplane is an incredibly complex piece of machinery, and every increase in complexity increases the number of possible mishaps. Moreover, aircraft mishaps are inherently serious – a clogged fuel line on a plane in flight is a much more serious problem than a clogged fuel line in an automobile on the road, for example. When a defect in an airplane causes a crash, in some cases the culprit is not the plane’s manufacture but the original design of the plane itself.
Examples of Design Defects
Even a small private plane contains hundreds of components that might be defectively designed. A few of the most common components that can cause plane crashes when they fail are:
- Vertical stabilizers
- Slat handles
- Fuel lines
- Landing gear
- Structural components (when substandard metals are used, for example)
- Autopilot mechanisms
- Safety features such a fuel gauges and engine lights
Proving Your Case
When a design defect causes a plane crash, any claim must be pursued under the product liability law of the state whose law governs the claim. To establish a claim under product liability law, you must prove:
- The pilot was operating the plane in the way it was intended
- The risk of a crash was substantial, rather than remote. The mere fact that a plane crash occurred does not prove that the risk of a crash was unreasonably high – the crash might have been a freak accident.
- A safer design was available that probably would have prevented the crash
- The safer design was practical to use – in other words, it was economically feasible, it would not significantly detract from the plane’s performance, and was not otherwise unreasonably difficult to incorporate.
Once you have proven all of the foregoing, you can win without having to prove that the designer was negligent or that any other party was at fault. You can also win against any party in the chain of distribution – you can sue the merchant who sold the plane, for example, even if the merchant did not design the component that failed.
Possible Defenses to a Product Liability Claim
Most product liability design defect defenses are based on the following claims:
- The plane was not unreasonably dangerous. You are expected to assume the risk of a certain degree of danger, since no aircraft can be made 100 percent safe. To prevail, you must show that the plane was unreasonably
- The plane was not being used as intended at the time the crash occurred. This defense might be available if, for example, the crash occurred when the plane was travelling at an altitude for which the plane was not designed. The defendant’s argument would be that if the plane had been used as intended, the accident either would not have occurred or it would have been less serious.
- The defect did not cause the crash (or was only part of the cause).
- The statute of limitations deadline for filing a lawsuit has already expired.
A product liability claim alleging that a design defect caused a plane crash must be supported by admissible evidence and, in most cases, expert testimony. An experienced plane crash lawyer will be able to secure the necessary expertise to create a credible product liability claim on your behalf.