Aviation accidents helicopters, commercial airliners and small private planes are tragic events that typically result in fatalities and catastrophic injury. The best way to secure fair compensation for an aviation accident is to know your rights. Because of the complexity of many aviation accident claims, however, the services of a skilled and experienced aviation attorney could be vital to your chances of success.
Who Counts as a Victim?
Depending on the facts surrounding the aviation accident, the following parties may be able to file a lawsuit or seek a settlement:
- An injured victim
- The spouse of an injured victim
- The legal guardian of an injured victim
- Close family members of a deceased plane crash victim
- The executor of a deceased plane crash victim’s estate.
Due to the financial and emotional devastation caused by a plane crash, verdicts and settlements of seven figures are typical rather than extraordinary. Three main types of damages are available in aviation accidents: economic damages, non-economic damages and punitive damages:
Economic damages: Economic damages include any tangible losses that can be readily calculated such as medical expenses, lost earnings, burial and funeral expenses (if the victim died) and in some cases even attorney’s fees.
Non-Economic Damages: Non-economic damages include intangible losses that are difficult to quantify such as pain and suffering (in personal injury cases) and loss of companionship and grief (in wrongful death cases). Although non-economic damages can far exceed economic damages, some states have limited the amount of non-economic damages that an aviation accident victim can recover
Punitive damages: Punitive damages are awarded to punish a defendant for particularly outrageous conduct – a plane crash caused by an intoxicated pilot, for example. Aviation accident victims have enjoyed only occasional success in obtaining punitive damages against corporate defendants, and virtually zero success in obtaining punitive damages against commercial airlines.
Statutes of Limitations and Settlement
Every jurisdiction has a statute of limitations that places a time limit for filing a lawsuit over an aviation accident. The statute of limitations for a personal injury claim runs from one to ten years after the date of the injury, depending on the state. The statute of limitations for filing a wrongful death lawsuit begins running on the date of the victim’s death and runs for several years after that (again, time limits vary by state). If you miss the statute of limitations deadline, you will probably never be able to file a lawsuit on your claim, and the defendant will lose all motivation to settle with you out of court.
The Montreal Convention
Under the Montreal Convention, if you or your loved one was killed or injured in an international aviation accident involving a commercial airliner, you may be able to sue the airliner in your home jurisdiction (instead of having to travel to, say, Sri Lanka to file a lawsuit against the airline). You can obtain damages without showing that the airline was at fault, as long as you claim no more than 113,100 in Special Drawing Rights (a variable accounting unit based on a basket of major world currencies).
The aftermath of an aviation accident is traumatic and emotionally wrenching. The trauma can be multiplied, however, if you fail to thoroughly prepare your claim far enough in advance to allow you to beat the statute of limitations deadline. A dedicated aviation lawyer could turn out to be worth more than his weight in gold under such circumstances.