Aviation accidents: Answers to top legal questions

Aviation accidents often make big news because they're relatively rare but almost always involve a tremendous loss of life.

Because they're uncommon, many people don't know much about their legal rights after an aviation accident has claimed the life of their loved ones.

If you've experienced this kind of heartbreaking loss, here are the answers to some of the most important questions you may have.

Can you sue over the death of a loved one in an aviation accident?

Quite often, yes. There will be a thorough investigation into the accident by the authorities to try to determine the cause of the crash. Depending on the results, you may be able to hold one or more parties responsible for the wrongful death of your loved one.

What are the most common causes of aviation accidents?

If the accident was unavoidable or essentially an act of God, there might have been no negligence involved -- which means nobody would be liable in a wrongful death claim. However, most aviation accidents come down to one of two issues (or sometimes both): pilot error or mechanical failure.

Who can be held responsible in a wrongful death claim?

If pilot error is responsible, you may be able to hold the pilot liable for your damages. If the pilot was employed merely to operate the plane and didn't own it, you can hold the employer liable for the pilot's mistakes.

If mechanical failure is the cause of the accident, you may be able to hold the maintenance company that services the aircraft responsible for your loss -- or possibly the plane's manufacturer.

Do you need legal help after an aviation accident?

Aviation claims are incredibly complex. The jurisdiction for an accident could fall under either state or federal laws, depending on the circumstances. The investigation can take a long time -- but you may need to act before it is finished to put a case in motion if you want to preserve your legal right to file. Identifying exactly which parties should be names as defendants is also sometimes difficult in aviation wrongful death claims.

While you don't have to have an attorney to file a claim, the complicated nature of aviation lawsuits makes it wise to seek help.

Source: FindLaw, "Product Liability and Aviation Accidents," accessed March 15, 2018

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