During a recent airplane crash, an “out of control” Learjet toppled into several cars and buildings during a crash landing at a Carlstadt airport.
Federal investigators have yet to determine fault, but Jim Silliman with the National Transportation Safety Board indicated that winds gusting up to 30mph may have been responsible. In fact, based on a video review of the wing and nose alignments, it appears that the plane was “out of control” in the moments before the crash, he added. The stricken aircraft went down about a quarter of a mile from the Teterboro Airport’s runway, crashing into an industrial area and exploding into a fireball. The plane struck three buildings and sixteen cars in the parking lot, and a few of them sustained serious damage. The aircraft, which was registered to Billings-based A&C Big Sky Aviation as a charter plane, made stops in Massachusetts and Philadelphia just before it crashed in New Jersey.
The two dead bodies were burned so badly that authorities say identification will take some time, but they are presumed to be crew members.
Legal Duty in Airplane Crash Cases
In New Jersey, airplane pilots, long-haul truck drivers, Uber drivers, and other commercial operators are common carriers, which means they have a higher duty of care. In fact, according to one court, such carriers are “enjoined to shield him from those dangers which human care and foresight can reasonably anticipate and prevent, compatible with the nature and needs of the business. If the carrier knew, or had reasonable cause to know, of the likelihood of injury to the passenger, and the danger is preventable by the exercise of due care, so measured, he is answerable for the consequences of his nonconformance to that standard.”
New York and a few other jurisdictions have abolished the higher common carrier duty in airplane crash cases.
In practical terms, a common carrier is anyone who transports people or cargo for a fee. The higher duty begins when the conveyance picks up the passenger(s) or item(s) and does not end until the passenger(s) or item(s) arrive safely at their destinations.
Unless they are alone in their private planes, pilots violate their duty of care if they take unnecessary risks, and attempting to land in a stiff wind certainly qualifies as such. Commercial drivers also must keep their passengers safe during transit by breaking up fights on the bus and so forth.
The higher duty of care means that it is easier for a Jersey City personal injury attorney to establish the other elements in an airplane crash negligence case.
Evidence in Airplane Crash Cases
Aircraft that seat more than ten people (not including the pilot) and were made after 1991 must have flight data recorders, which means that in many cases, including the Teterboro crash in the above story, the airplane does not have this critical bit of evidence.
The flight data recorder captures and stores information about many of the aircraft’s critical systems, including:
- Angle and rate of descent or ascent,
- Altitude, and
- Other important metrics.
A Jersey City personal injury attorney must normally obtain a court order before the plaintiff can access the information on the flight data recorder.
There is other evidence as well. In almost all aviation crashes, either a state or federal agency conducts an investigation as to the crash causes. These investigations are nearly always admissible in court even if the investigator who prepared it does not testify, and they are incredibly persuasive.
This doctrine, which applies in nearly all commercial aviation crash cases, states that the aircraft’s owner is ultimately responsible for damages if both prongs of the test are present.
First, for respondeat superior to apply, the tortfeasor (negligent actor) must be an employee of the company that owned or operated the aircraft. In New Jersey negligence cases, the broad Department of Labor definition, which is “suffer or permit to work,” normally applies. Therefore, independent contractors and almost any other worker who had a business relationship with the company is an “employee” for purposes of a damages claim.
Second, the tortfeasor must have been acting within the course and scope of employment at the time of the crash. Most New Jersey courts define this phrase broadly as well. It includes any action that benefit the employer in any way, regardless of how slight. For example, a pilot who is ferrying an empty charter plane back to the hanger is probably acting within the course and scope of employment.
Airplane crashes usually involve highly technical legal issues. For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury lawyer in Jersey City, contact Napoli Shkolnik PLLC. We do not charge upfront legal fees in negligence cases.