Aviation accidents are devastating events that commonly result in seven-figure recoveries for well-prepared claims. Because of the enormity of the stakes, however, defendants (whether they are airliners, aircraft manufacturers or insurance companies) tend to fight hard to either avoid liability altogether or minimize any inevitable liability. In addition to these difficulties, aircraft accidents can be complex and difficult to reconstruct, requiring intimate knowledge of aircraft mechanics and flight procedures. An experienced aviation accident attorney will be adept at surmounting all of these challenges.
Reconstructing the Accident
To win an aviation accident claim, you must identify the cause. Indeed, many aviation accidents can be traced to multiple causes. Although the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is responsible for investigating aviation accidents that occur in the United States, its investigation can be cursory in small plane or helicopter accidents. Outside help may be necessary to supplement or dispute NTSB findings. In many cases it will be necessary to hire an investigator to conduct an independent investigation. You may also need to hire an accident reconstruction specialist to reconstruct the accident and testify in court.
Applying the Law
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is responsible for overseeing all civil aviation in the United States, while the Department of Transportation (DOT) regulates the carriage of hazardous materials. If your claim is based on negligence, you are likely to need an aviation lawyer to help you navigate the Byzantine corridors of FAA or DOT regulations. If you can establish that a regulatory violation caused the accident, you are likely to prevail in a negligence claim. Since the regulations are considered minimum standards, however, it is possible to establish negligence even if no regulation was violated.
Damages in an aviation accident case can be immense. Nevertheless, you cannot be awarded any damages that you can’t prove with admissible evidence. Some of the more difficult kinds of damages to prove are:
- Future lifetime earnings: In some states, the financial dependents of deceased victims are entitled to a share of the earnings that the victim would have enjoyed if he had lived.
- Lifetime medical expenses: In a personal injury claim filed by a permanently disabled victim, it is important to claim enough in damages to pay for a lifetime of medical care. Estimating these damages is difficult and speculative.
- Intangible damages: Intangible damages include non-economic damages such as pain and suffering. Although these damages are hard to quantify, they can account for the bulk of a large personal injury or wrongful death recovery. Some states place a mandatory maximum on this type of damages.
Contingency Fee Arrangements
Preparing and pursuing an aviation accident claim can be expensive – you are likely to need the services of an aviation attorney, an investigator and expert witnesses, for example. Fortunately, many aviation lawyers will accept your case on a contingency fee basis if they think you have a strong case. Under a typical contingency fee arrangement, you don’t pay unless you win a verdict or settlement. Many lawyers will also advance up-front expenses such as investigation fees. Your attorney will be reimbursed for his out-of-pocket expenses and will take 30 to 40 percent of your eventual recovery.
Pursuing an aviation accident claim is an activity that requires considerable professional expertise. Retaining a skilled aviation accident lawyer could turn out to greatly increase the value of your recovery, even after taking into account your legal expenses.