Aviation Accidents Attorneys

Aviation Accidents and Pilot Error

Aviation cases often involve one of three causes: (1) human error; (2) mechanical failure; or (3) the environment. Pilot error is a factor in more than 80 percent of the plane crashes in New York. Given the significant loss of life and catastrophic injuries in most of these crashes, the victims and their kin are often entitled to significant compensation. Napoli Law attorneys approach these cases with the same commitment and fervor as they do with other negligence cases. In fact, many aviation accidents have much in common with large-scale environmental tort cases. To be successful, your legal team must partner with top experts in the field and ensure that every detail is in place. The defendants in these cases have almost unlimited resources, and their lawyers will bitterly fight for every inch of legal ground. Our commitment to justice and fair compensation gives us fuel for this fight, and sets us apart from some other aviation accident law firms.  

Negligence in Aviation Accident Cases

Essentially, negligence is a lack of ordinary care. In a car crash case, lack of ordinary care includes things like speeding, driving under the influence of alcohol, distracted driving, and fatigued driving. In these cases, it is easy for mist jurors to connect the driver error to the victim/plaintiff’s damages. Napoli Law attorneys use the same approach in New York pilot error crashes. Typically, pilot error fits into one of the following categories:
  • Adverse Weather: On the ground, adverse weather usually means severe storms. In the air, adverse weather has a much broader definition. Fog and clouds cause many weather-related crashes. Accident reconstructionists often refer to these incidents as VFR into IMC (Visual Flight Rules into Instrument Meteorological Conditions) or IF into IMC (Inadvertent Flight into Instrument Meteorological Conditions). But there is usually nothing “inadvertent” about these crashes. Many pilots are overconfident in their own abilities; others bow to passenger pressure to fly through the hazardous condition so as to arrive on time.
  • Striking an Obstacle: CFIT (Controlled Flight Into Terrain) crashes are very common in both poor weather and nighttime flights, especially upon approach for landing in unfamiliar areas. During these critical moments, even a brush against a tree, hill, utility pole, or other object usually causes loss of control.
  • Failure to Prepare the Plane: All pilots should thoroughly inspect and re-inspect their planes before takeoff. But many are so anxious to get in the air they either go through the motions or skip this process altogether. Similarly, many pilots fail to prepare proper flight plans. So, bad weather or other such obstacles catch them off guard.
  • Failure to Prepare Themselves: All pilots should go through a personal “I’M SAFE” checklist to ensure they have no issues regarding illness, medication, stress, alcohol, fatigue, or emotion. It’s even more dangerous to offset one area with another one (e.g. drinking to reduce stress).
There are other areas of pilot error as well, from the mundane (running out of fuel) to the reckless (performing low-level maneuvers to show off).  

Establishing First Party Liability in Pilot Error Crash Cases

Your legal team generally establishes a negligence theory early in the process, perhaps during the initial consultation or first review of the available facts. Next, Napoli Law attorneys go about collecting evidence of negligence. Victim/plaintiffs have the burden of proof in negligence cases. They must establish liability by a preponderance of the evidence (more likely than not). In many aviation crash cases, evidence comes from the flight recorders. The International Civil Aviation Organization recommends that all airplanes, except for very small Cessnas, Pipers, Beechcraft, and other such machines, have both a CVR and a Type I FDR. The Cockpit Voice Recorder must have at least a two hour recording length. Some older airplanes must have 30-minute CVRs. Furthermore, the voice recorder must timestamp messages to the crew and passengers, in most cases. The Flight Data Recorder must measure speed, attitude, engine power, flight path, and configuration of drag and lift devices. In many cases, an FDR helps crash investigators conclusively determine if pilot error, an external event, or mechanical failure caused the crash. These gadgets must also meet or exceed standards for technical sophistication and physical strength. In the absence of such direct information, circumstantial evidence is available to establish pilot error. Such evidence, such as the amount of sleep the pilot got the night before, is also available to supplement the electronic evidence or refute the defendant’s assertions.  

Vicarious Liability in Pilot Error Crashes

Much of the pilot error inquiry focuses on tactical errors. But other cases involve operational error. For example, the Federal Aviation Administration insists that pilots know how to deal with a stalled engine. Many students simply fly faster to avoid the problem altogether, and this bad habit continues after they obtain their licenses. Additionally, rather than train students how to take off and land on short runways, many schools simply prohibit this practice. If the pilot error was directly related to the instruction which the pilot received, the institution may be partially responsible for damages. So, an attorney must conduct an extremely thorough investigation of all the facts. If all potentially responsible parties are not held accountable, there will probably be future pilot error crash victims. Pilot error is by far the leading cause of airplane crashes. For a free consultation with an experienced aviation accident lawyer in New York, contact Napoli Shkolnik PLLC. Our firm has a small, approachable atmosphere and access to nationwide resources.

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