Airplane mechanics are much more than just women and men with wrenches. These individuals are highly-trained, and highly-paid, professionals with a high degree of skill in a number of areas. For example, General Aviation mechanics must work on everything from single-seat propeller aircraft to sophisticated jets that carry more than a dozen passengers. Specifically, airplane mechanics must repair current problems and predict future failures.
Furthermore, mechanically-related airplane crash cases present some intricate legal issues. It is not easy to determine fault and establish liability. The mechanic can also raise a number of effective defenses in these proceedings.
Given all these complexities, you need an effective lawyer to stand up for your rights in the event of an aviation crash. At Napoli Law, our aviation accidents attorneys are highly experienced and dedicated professionals. They have the tools they need to build a winning case. Perhaps more importantly, they have the passion to see the case through to the end. This combination often produces results which exceed your expectations.
Duty in Improper Maintenance Cases
In many ways, airplane mechanics have almost a fiduciary duty towards airplane owners and passengers. Like a stock broker, a mechanic has almost unlimited access to a very personal asset. Like a lawyer, a mechanic is the only person between the aircraft owner and a potential tragedy. And like a doctor, an airplane owner is entirely dependent on the mechanic to keep the aircraft safe.
As a result, the standard of care is much higher in these cases than it is in car crashes. The Code of Federal Regulations sets out an airplane mechanic’s high duty in this realm. That duty includes:
- Full Legal Compliance: If a driver travels 31mph in a 30mph zone, that driver will probably not get a ticket and speed will probably not factor into a crash. But an airplane mechanic must strictly adhere to all laws in all respects. There is too much at stake to demand otherwise.
- Complete All Repairs: As far as mechanics are concerned, there is no such thing as just getting by. Furthermore, mechanics cannot always cease work at a certain time. They must complete every job in a professional manner. They cannot rush through anything or take any shortcuts.
- Use the Right Tools: A mechanic must know the right tools to use and also the right way to use them. If the applicable regulations or standards call for a certain kind of tool, that’s the one mechanics must use, even if their “guts” say that the tool is unnecessary.
- Keep Accurate Records: This step is absolutely critical. Federal Aviation Administration rules specifically prohibit “pencil whipping” and other lackadaisical practices in this area. FAA regulations also make provisions for the retention and storage of these records.
- Ask for Help: Many professionals view asking for help as a sign of weakness. Lawyers and doctors are especially bad in this area. But mechanics have both a moral and legal responsibility to ask for help when needed. They must swallow their pride and put safety first.
These FAA standards are only the minimum. Legally, mechanics and other professionals must meet or exceed the industry standard. Depending on the geographic area, type of aircraft, and other factors, the industry standard could be much higher.
Establishing Negligence in Improper Maintenance Cases
Once a lawyer establishes the proper standard of care, the real work begins. Victim/plaintiffs have the burden of proof in this area. So, in addition to legal duty, they must establish:
- Breach: A breach is basically a serious violation of duty. As mentioned earlier, travelling 31mph in a 30mph zone is probably not a breach of duty. But because of the high standard of care, and because mechanics are paid professionals, such seemingly minor breaches probably suffice.
- Cause: There must be a direct connection between the breach of duty and the victim/plaintiff’s damages. Cause comes in many forms. Skipped procedural steps, poorly adjusted controls, and improper repairs are just a few examples. The wreck must also be a foreseeable result of the breach.
- Damages: In aircraft crash claims, damages usually include compensation for economic and noneconomic losses. There must be an actual crash; a “near miss” or “close call” is usually not actionable.
Common defenses in improper aircraft maintenance and other negligence cases include contributory negligence and assumption of the risk. Contributory negligence is basically a way of shifting blame for the crash onto the victim. These claims often include allegations of pilot error.
Assumption of the risk is a similar doctrine. But there is a big difference between getting into a plane, which has a theoretical risk of crashing, and getting into a plane which the person knows to be unreasonably dangerous.
Once fault is established, the battle is not over yet. At Napoli Law, we are committed to both justice and compensation in these cases. Compensation is sometimes hard to obtain. The FAA usually does not require mechanics to carry insurance.
So, vicarious liability is often important in these claims. Third party liability gives a victim/plaintiff an additional source of compensation. Some common theories include:
- Respondeat Superior: The facility or company which employs the mechanic may be responsible for damages. Under the law, all employers are usually responsible for the negligence of their employees if that negligence occurs during the scope of employment.
- Negligent Hiring/Negligent Entrustment: These companies also have a legal responsibility to hire top-quality mechanics and supervise them closely. If they fall short in either of these areas, they may be financially responsible for accidents.
New York and most other states are modified joint and several liability states. If there are multiple tortfeasors, the judge usually apportions damages among them based on their percentage of fault.
Because of the high standard of care, improper aircraft maintenance is often a factor in crash cases. For a free consultation with an experienced aviation accident attorney in New York, contact Napoli Shkolnik PLLC. Home and hospital visits are available.