Who can be held responsible for an aviation accident?

In an earlier post, we discussed the leading causes of aviation accidents. Based on a study conducted by the Federal Aviation Administration, the most common causes of fatal aviation accidents include everything from pilot errors to system failures.

One challenge with having such a wide-ranging list is that it can be very difficult to determine who is responsible when an aviation accident occurs.

Under Texas law, a number of different entities can be held liable for injuries or deaths that occur in an aviation accident. Who can be held responsible depends on the nature of the accident. Generally, personal injury or wrongful death claims resulting from aviation accidents fall under two different theories: negligence or product liability (or both). 

According to the theory of negligence, an injured person must be able to show that the defendant failed to do something that a reasonable person would have done under similar circumstances. Pilots, airlines, and airline maintenance providers are often subject to negligence claims after an accident. Say, for example, that a pilot falls asleep while operating an airplane, leading to a crash. The pilot could be held responsible for any injuries or deaths that occur as a result.

Under the theory of product liability, manufacturers and sellers of products can be legally responsible if a defective product led to a person being injured or killed. For example, if an engine was not properly manufactured and the airplane crashed as a result, the engine manufacturer could be held liable for any passenger injuries.  

In some cases, multiple entities can be held liable for an accident. And to make things even more complicated, an owner can be held liable even if the owner was not operating the aircraft at the time of the accident. This is known as vicarious liability.

Clearly, aviation litigation is extremely complex. If you or a loved one has been impacted by an aviation accident, consider speaking with an attorney who has experience in this area of law. The attorney can evaluate the facts of your case to help you decide whether to file a claim.