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Commercial Airliner Accidents: Who is Liable?


While commercial aviation accidents are not common, they can be devastating. Even minor incidences can still result in catastrophic injuries. After the recent and deadly Southwest Airlines accident, many people are aware of the dangers of an aviation accident. So who is responsible for aviation accidents when they occur? There can be a variety of answers, depending on the circumstances of the accident. Generally, the airline itself will be held liable, though it is possible that the manufacturer of the plane involved can be held liable. Let’s take a closer look at the factors that affect commercial aviation liability.

The Cause of the Crash

The first step of determining liability is to determine what happened to cause the crash. In many accidents, pilot error is the reason for the accident. Mechanical failure is another leading cause, which can be due to negligent maintenance or defective manufacturing. Both of these causes can be aggravated by poor weather conditions, making it even more difficult to determine the true cause of the accident.

Holding Airlines Liable

Generally, when a plane is involved in an accident, the airline responsible for operating the plane will be liable for the accident. This includes cases of pilot error, deficient maintenance, failure to adequately fuel a plane, failure to secure cargo properly, and failure to file flight plans correctly. When the airline or its personnel have been negligent, then the airline as a whole is liable for any injuries or deaths caused by an aviation accident. Because airlines are considered “common carriers,” they are subject to a heightened duty of care and must take additional precautions to prevent passenger injuries.

Holding Aircraft Manufacturers Liable

If the accident was not caused by airline negligence, but rather a manufacturing or design flaw, then the aircraft manufacturer or the manufacturer of the defective part would be the liable party. Defective manufacturing can mean a number of things. It may mean that the design plans weren’t followed precisely or that mistakes were made during manufacturing that lead to failure. It can also mean that the initial design was poor, and caused the plane to fail.

Recently, it was discovered that a certain model of Rolls Royce aviation engine had a very unique design flaw which caused fuel starvation, causing the engine to quit. In cases like these, the engine was manufactured correctly, but the design was poor. Defectively designed aircraft or components can lead to devastating accidents, which is why it is possible to hold the company responsible for the design liable.

It can be challenging to narrow down exactly what parties may be liable for an aviation accident. With an experienced aviation accident lawyer, the process can be much easier. Your attorney can investigate the accident and work with the airline to ensure that the true cause of the accident is uncovered and all injured parties are properly compensated.

At The Law Offices of David Henderson, my team is committed to protecting your rights. As an Anchorage personal injury attorney, I have the experience and knowledge necessary to help you understand your legal options and pursue the compensation you deserve. Call my offices today to schedule a free consultation so we can discuss your case.

I can be contacted at (888) 295-6566.