Powerless flight is an extremely popular diversion. Aficionados say it is the closest thing to literally soaring like a bird. Soaring usually involves catching air currents. That could be upward drafts bouncing off mountains, rising warm air currents, or atmospheric waves. Obviously, glider pilots must possess a great deal of skill. And, they must always be able to count on their equipment.
In many respects, New York glider accidents are a lot like pedestrian accidents. Pedestrian-auto crashes are quite rare but almost always involve catastrophic injuries. The same thing applies in soaring. About 80 percent of glider accidents occur during takeoffs or landings.
At Napoli Law, many of our aviation accident attorneys are pilots themselves. That experience gives them a unique perspective in these cases. In many instances, that insight gives you an edge. For example, Napoli Law attorneys understand the interplay between different kinds of negligence in New York glider accidents. They’re able to communicate that perspective to a jury.
Common Injuries in Glider Accidents
Statistically, gliders are three times more dangerous than motor vehicles. Every year, there is about one fatality per 6,000 motor vehicles. But there is about one fatality for every 2,000 gliders. The serious injury rate is even higher than that. Some of these serious injuries include:
- Broken Bones: A fall from a height often shatters bones. It does not simply break them. As a result, many victims require extremely aggressive corrective surgery and months of physical rehabilitation.
- Internal Injuries: The same forces that cause bones to shatter cause internal organs to grind against each other. These wounds often bleed worse than external trauma injuries, because the bleeding can only be stopped surgically. So, many victims lose up to half their blood in serious accidents.
- Head Injuries: Crash helmets offer excellent protection against head trauma wounds. But they offer little protection against internal brain injuries. Usually, the motion, as opposed to the impact, causes traumatic brain injuries.
Damages in New York glider accident claims usually include compensation for both economic losses, such as medical bills, and noneconomic losses, such as pain and suffering. Additional punitive damages may be available as well, in some cases.
First Party Liability in New York Glider Accidents
Takeoff crashes often involve multiple people. In addition to a pilot, there is usually someone on the ground helping the craft take off. Either person can make a mistake. A negligence claim is not really about “blaming” someone for the accident. Instead, negligence claims hold tortfeasors (negligent actors) responsible for their mistakes. And that’s something we must all deal with.
Launch accidents often involve defective products as well. Gliders are such delicate machines that even a slight product defect can cause tragedy. Some common issues include:
- Tow line breaks,
- Defective canopy latches,
- Tow plane power failures,
- Non-working instruments,
- Tire blowouts,
- Incorrectly installed components, and
- Defective tow line release mechanisms.
In both human error and defective product cases, insurance companies often assert a number of defenses. Comparative fault is the most common negligence defense. For example, an insurance company might admit that its insured towed the plane too slowly, but the pilot had the flaps in the wrong position, and that error caused the crash.
New York is a pure comparative fault state. The judge divides damages in these cases based solely on the percentage of fault. Even if the pilot is 99 percent responsible for the crash, the victim still recovers a proportional share of damages in New York.
Improper use is one of the most common defective product defenses. But for the defense to apply, the victim must have grossly misused the product. That means something like using a lawnmower to trim ivy on a brick wall. Many defective product cases involve strict liability claims, and this defense may be entirely inapplicable.
The tortfeasor or product manufacturer may not be the only parties responsible for damages in New York glider accident claims.
Some companies rent glider rides to passengers. These companies could be liable for damages under one of the following theories:
- Respondeat Superior: In simple negligence instances, employers are responsible for the negligent acts of their employees which occur during the course and scope of employment.
- Negligent Hiring/Negligent Supervision: Third party liability may also attach in gross negligence cases. These companies have very high legal duties to hire the best possible employees and supervise them closely. A failure in either respect could constitute negligence.
These theories may also apply to glider pilot instruction schools. These institutions have a duty to give students the knowledge and skills necessary for them to be safe. They do not have a duty to simply hand out diplomas.
Special Issues with Regard to New York Glider Accidents and Defective Products
In 1994, lawmakers passed the General Aviation Revitalization Act. GARA gives aircraft manufacturers, including glider manufacturers, immunity from defective product actions in general aviation accidents. For this immunity to apply, the aircraft must have been at least eighteen years old at the time of the accident.
Most gliders meet this age requirement. But this law was designed to eliminate frivolous lawsuits and not stop meritorious ones. So, there are a number of GARA workarounds, including:
- Concealment of information from the FAA or another government agency,
- The victim was an aircraft passenger or someone on the ground, or
- There is a separate written warranty.
Additionally, if the aircraft had been modified, the clock may start over. For example, if a pilot worked on the flaps in 2010, the manufacturer could be liable for any flap-related defects until 2028.
Glider accidents often involve personal negligence and/or a defective product. For a free consultation with an experienced aviation accident attorney in New York, contact Napoli Shkolnik PLLC. We do not charge upfront legal fees in negligence cases.