Large commercial airplane crashes are headline-grabbing events. These disasters chillingly illustrate how one mistake, or a series of mistakes, can lead to tragedy. In addition to a number of casualties, there is often a great deal of evidence in these cases. In addition to dozens or hundreds of witnesses, there is substantial electronic evidence, such as the flight data recorder and voice recorder.
Small plane crashes are different. Many times, the media deems these events to be more like car crashes which are barely newsworthy. Furthermore, there is often little evidence in these crashes. Electronic evidence, such as the aforementioned flight data recorder, is often unavailable. Moreover, instead of dozens of witnesses, there may only be a handful.
But these two kinds of crashes have something very important in common. They both illustrate the effects of unintentional negligence. At Napoli Law, we are dedicated to accident victims. We labor tirelessly to obtain justice and compensation for the victims. Our skilled attorneys use proven methods to overcome the legal obstacles common in these cases and present a compelling case to the jury. That approach often leads to results which exceed our clients’ expectations.
Some Facts About New York Private Jet Crashes
When Congress created the Federal Aviation Agency in 1958, it was a small department without much regulatory authority. But that changed with airline deregulation in 1978. Suddenly, the newly-christened Federal Aviation Administration was a powerful agency with broad regulatory authority. The FAA cut the number of commercial airplane crashes by over 70 percent.
However, general aviation (small plane) crash rates have remained persistently high. There is about one fatality for every 100,000 hours of flight time. By comparison, there is about one vehicle collision fatality per two million hours of driving time. In other words, small aircraft may be deadlier than passenger cars.
What Causes Private Jet Crashes?
Pilot error is seldom a major factor in commercial jet crashes. These large and expensive aircraft have extremely sophisticated navigation and safety systems. These aircraft also have backup personnel, like a co-pilot and/or navigator, in addition to multiple engines. Finally, commercial pilots are usually highly-experienced professionals who must undergo rigorous retraining.
But small private planes have none of these things. The aircraft, while sophisticated, are not nearly as intricate or expensive as commercial jets. Furthermore, the pilots are often rather inexperienced, have little in-air support, and must normally only update their licenses once every two years. This combination often paves the way for critical mistakes like:
- Loss of Control: Improper airspeed causes many crashes. For example, a slow approach speed often causes the engine to stall. During these critical moments, the pilot has almost no chance to correct the error.
- Visual Flight Rules into Instrumental Meteorological Conditions: VFR into IMC is essentially instrument-only flight in adverse environmental conditions, like fog or darkness. Many aircraft owners simply lack the skills to successfully perform these maneuvers, and many planes do not have the gear necessary to help them.
- Collision with Object: Mid-air collisions are very rare, but collisions with mountains, buildings, and other ground obstacles are rather common. Typically, the lowest safe altitude (LSALT) is only 500 feet. That height gives pilots little margin of error when they fly over unfamiliar terrain in less-than-ideal flight conditions.
Some of the same problems which plague drivers, such as alcohol impairment or fatigue, also affect pilots. Other pilot errors include both mundane items, such as running out of fuel, and extremely reckless and hazardous activity, such as performing dangerous aerial stunts.
Other human error is a problem as well. Most mechanics are highly-trained professionals who take pride in their work. But like everyone else, they are prone to lapses and sometimes take shortcuts. Other times, they work on aircraft that they do not have the skills or expertise to handle. That last instance is especially common in small airports.
Air traffic controller error is rather rare. But when it does happen, it’s usually because the controller is working with too many aircraft at once. The result is either confusion or a lack of communication. Most of these mistakes occur during daylight hours and in clear conditions.
Finally, defective products could be a factor in these crashes. Navigational and engineering parts are the most likely culprits. But other equipment, such as safety equipment, could just as easily fail to work properly.
Liability in Small Plane Crash Cases
If human error is the cause, whether it be the pilot, mechanic, air traffic controller, or other person, Napoli Law attorneys usually focus on negligence. A negligence case has five basic elements:
- Proximate cause (foreseeability), and
Due to their professional status, most of the aforementioned individuals have very high legal duties. That higher duty usually makes it easier to establish the other elements of the case. In court, negligence victims must establish each element by a preponderance of the evidence (more likely than not).
If a defective product is to blame, the problem could be a manufacturing defect or a design defect. In either case, Napoli Law attorneys often pursue one of the following claims:
- Negligence: In this context, negligence sometimes pertains to the way the product was marketed or sold.
- Breach of Warranty: Most new goods come with implied warranties which cannot be waived. In terms of airplane parts, the most important warranties are usually the warranty of fitness for a particular purpose and the warranty of merchantability.
- Strict Liability: Some products, such as airplane fuel, are so dangerous that no amount of caution could make them entirely safe. If a defect causes injury, the product maker may be liable for damages as a matter of law.
Special issues apply in small aircraft defective product cases, because of the General Aviation Revitalization Act. GARA is a statute of repose which sharply limits manufacturer liability if the aircraft is more than eighteen years old. However, there are a number of GARA workarounds. An experienced attorney knows how to use these provisions to get you the compensation you deserve.
General aviation is much safer than it was in the 1970s, but it is still one of the most dangerous travel methods. For a free consultation with an experienced aviation crash attorney in New York, contact Napoli Shkolnik PLLC. We handle aviation accident cases on a nationwide basis.