Wrongful Death in Aviation Accidents: 4 Key Things to Know

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In January 2020, the basketball world was rocked by the news that NBA legend Kobe Bryant died in a helicopter crash, together with his daughter, his daughter’s teammates, and their families. In 2021, his wife Vanessa and the family members of the other helicopter passengers won a wrongful death lawsuit against the owner/operator of the helicopter.

Apparently, the cause of the crash was pilot error due to “spatial disorientation,” according to a Fox News article.

If you plan to file a wrongful death claim, a lawyer specializing in these cases can walk you through the process and get you familiar with the legal options. This blog discusses four things to keep in mind when you plan to file a claim.

Who Can File a Lawsuit?

When a wrongful death occurs in an aviation accident, the victim’s spouse, legal guardian, a personal estate representative, and next of kin may sue the party responsible for the accident. People in the “danger zone” who experienced emotional trauma from the accident can also file a lawsuit.

How Do You Determine Liability?

Liability depends on the findings of the investigating body. In an aviation accident, the parties potentially liable are the pilots, the airline, the aircraft owner, the aircraft manufacturer, the aircraft parts supplier, the maintenance provider, and the airport operator.

When investigating an aircraft accident, two government agencies play a significant role: the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

The NTSB works as a government investigation agency. It looks into accidents involving any type of mass transportation, such as buses, trains, and airplanes. It aims to determine the “probable cause” of the accident and make recommendations to improve transportation safety.

The FAA provides regulations on how to operate an air traffic control system. It can get involved when a violation of its rules leads to an aviation accident.

So, if one of the parts of the helicopter or airplane was faulty or the aircraft design was not safe for flying, the aircraft manufacturer can be liable. If the pilot was under the influence or negligent of flying conditions, he could be held liable for the accident. A lawyer will help you determine who to sue.

How Will the Victim’s Next of Kin be Compensated?

In a wrongful death case, the victim’s estate may be compensated for losing future earnings, and for medical expenses and funeral expenses. Their next of kin may also be compensated for losing their loved one, losing prospective inheritance, losing companionship, and for the grief, mental anguish, and emotional distress they experienced.

In some jurisdictions, you may be entitled to punitive damage if the conduct that led to the accident was egregious.

What are the Limits of Filing a Case?

The statute of limitations to file a wrongful death lawsuit in California is two years after the victim’s passing. You will lose all rights to recover monetary damage when you file beyond that.

After filing the case, the investigation can be complex and the legal process can take months before reaching a definitive conclusion on the cause of the accident. A final resolution can take up to two years. In the case of Bryant’s helicopter accident, it took more than a year to win the lawsuit.

Hire a Credible Wrongful Death Attorney in Los Angeles

A lawyer experienced in wrongful death cases investigates, collects evidence, and performs legal research to help you win your case. They will represent you in the investigation and court proceedings to ensure you get proper compensation.

Haffner Law has the legal experience to help you and your family secure the right compensation for the wrongful loss of a family member. Our team of lawyers will guide you throughout the process until you reach a successful resolution of your case.

Visit our wrongful death service page to learn about our services, or call us to speak to an attorney.


Wrongful Death in Air Accidents: Who Are Accountable?

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When someone confesses to being afraid of flying, the usual rebuttal is, “flying is safer than traveling on land.” The basis for this statement is statistics: data from the National Safety Council website shows that the lifetime odds of dying due to motor vehicle accidents is 1 in 106. The odds for air and space transport accidents, meanwhile, is 1 in 11,175. Simply put, people are more likely to get into car accidents than a plane crash.

The problem is that even though plane crashes seldom happens, they are almost always catastrophic.

This is why plane crashes are always treated as major incidents. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) get involved and often file criminal cases and impose hefty penalties on the airline. Meanwhile, the surviving families of the victims immediately consult wrongful death attorneys to hold the airline accountable for the loss of their loved ones.

In Los Angeles, Haffner Lawyers can represent the families who seek compensation or intend to file lawsuits against the airline and individuals who failed to ensure the safety of their passengers.

Negligence Costs Lives

There are many possible causes for a commercial plane to crash:

  • Pilot error
  • Oversight of the aircrew and/or ground crew
  • Engine and equipment failure
  • Bad weather
  • Negligence of air traffic controllers
  • Non-compliance with Federal Aviation Administration regulations
  • Other causes (e.g., terrorism, bird strikes)

All of these can be grounds for a wrongful death claim and civil and criminal lawsuits.

Proving Accountability: Who Can You Sue for Wrongful Death in Aviation?

The NTSB and FAA, among others, hold airline companies and specific people to a high standard when it comes to delivering aviation transport services. If they fail to meet those standards, they can be held liable for the repercussions that follow.

The following people and entities may be held accountable for aviation accidents:

  • Carriers or airline companies
  • Airline owner
  • Aircraft owner (for private planes)
  • Aircraft operators
  • Pilots, stewards, and other aircrew members
  • Ground crew
  • Air traffic controllers
  • Regulatory bodies and government agencies

While these people and entities easily come up in aviation lawsuit discussions, it may take some work to prove that any of them are truly liable for the deaths of their passengers.

Like any civil and criminal case, the plaintiff carries the burden of proof in an aviation lawsuit. Plaintiffs and their wrongful death lawyers must prove that the airline or certain individuals (often the captains of the aircraft or the maintenance supervisors on the ground) had been negligent in their duties and that their oversight resulted in the untimely deaths of their passengers. They will need to conduct private investigations or work alongside the police to determine guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, if necessary.

Hire Experienced and Tenacious Wrongful Death Attorneys in Los Angeles

There is very little room for error in air travel. One mistake of an aircraft officer, attendant, or ground crew member can cost hundreds of lives. Should an unfortunate event happen, the surviving families may have grounds to file a wrongful death claim against the people or companies responsible for the incident.

Haffner Law can offer legal advice and represent you in wrongful death claims for aviation accidents. Our attorneys specialize in personal injury cases. Collectively, they have handled hundreds of cases from as early as 1997.

Whether you’re filing a claim against an airline carrier or individual, Haffner Law is steadfast in fighting for the outcome you and your family deserve.

If you need more information about how we handle wrongful death claims for aviation accidents, you can reach us at 213-514-5681 or through online inquiry. Fill out the contact form on our website today.

(This is an attorney advertisement by Joshua Haffner)