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Aviation Accidents - FAQ

Q: Who can be held responsible to the injured parties in an aviation accident?
A: Potentially liable parties vary depending on the cause of the accident. The owner and operator of the aircraft certainly may be liable if the cause can be traced to human error. Manufacturers or maintenance suppliers may be liable when circumstances of the accident indicate that an engineering or mechanical failure may be to blame.

Q: Can the owner/operator be held criminally liable for an aviation accident?
A: Both the federal government and individual states can impose criminal sanctions in cases involving aviation accidents. Although the classifications and details may vary among them, most states impose criminal sanctions on aviators for reckless conduct that leads to injury, death, or property damage. The difficulty in prosecuting these cases lies in differentiating between cases of criminal negligence and mere accidents.

Q: What is the "statute of repose" in an aviation accident case?
A: In the context of aviation litigation, a "statute of repose" limits the time a lawsuit may be filed with regard to how long an airplane or part has been in service. The applicable time period varies depending on where the suit is filed (state, federal, or international court).

Q: What is the FAA?
A: The Federal Aviation Administration ("FAA") is the element of the U.S. government that is primarily responsible for the safety of civil aviation. It is separate from, and independent of, the National Transportation Safety Board ("NTSB").

Q: What is the NTSB?
A: The National Transportation Safety Board ("NTSB") is an independent federal agency charged with investigating every civil aviation accident in the United States. Its jurisdiction also includes trains and other vehicle accidents. The NTSB issues safety recommendations aimed at preventing future accidents, maintains the government's database on civil aviation accidents, and conducts special studies of transportation safety issues of national significance.

Q: What is GARA?
A: GARA, the General Aviation Revitalization Act of 1994, is a "statute of repose". GARA was designed to protect manufacturers of smaller, private aircraft (less than 20 seats) from liability for accidents involving older airplanes and/or parts. GARA bars lawsuits against the manufacturer of an aircraft or component part once that item has been in service for 18 years. GARA does not apply if the aircraft was engaged in scheduled carrying of passengers, or air medical services operations at the time of the accident.

Q: What are the most common causes of aircraft accidents?
A: The most common causes of aircraft accidents include:

  • Pilot Errors
  • Faulty Equipment
  • Violation of FAA regulations
  • Structural or design problems with an aircraft.
  • Flight service station employee negligence.
  • Federal air traffic controllers' negligence.
  • Third party's carrier selection negligence.
  • Maintenance or repair of the aircraft or component negligence.
  • Negligence in fueling the aircraft.

Q: Do the same laws apply to commercial aircraft and private aircraft?
A: No. General aviation law applies to all aircraft other than those operated by airlines or the military. Commercial airlines and military carriers are subject to different legal standards.

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