Our firm is almost always handling at least one case involving an aircraft crash. We have handled cases against Defendants who seek immunity as government contractors; cases against pilots who were at fault; cases for passengers involved in major airline crashes; and cases against corporations that manufactured parts of an airplane that failed during the operation of the flight. These case can be challenging and require expertise in this specialized area of litigation.
Many of these product manufacturers hide behind GARA, the General Aviation Revitalization Act of 1994, wrongly implemented during the Clinton administration. GARA is a statute of repose designed to protect manufacturers of private aircraft from liability for accidents involving older airplanes and/or parts. Basically, GARA bars lawsuits against the manufacturer of an aircraft or component part once that product has been in service for 18 years. While GARA has provided significant liability coverage to manufacturers, there have been some limited successes in narrowing the scope of GARA. One way that a Plaintiff can avoid GARA’s harsh result is to prove that a product manufacturer committed fraud.
For example, in one of the cases that we handled, we claimed and proved that the manufacturer of a component part knowingly misrepresented a material fact to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Specifically, the manufacturer told the FAA that an oil tank was fireproof, when in fact it was merely fire resistant. Due to the location of the oil tank near potentially hot exhaust from a turbocharged engine, the manufacturer knew that the oil tank must be fireproof. However, in order to cut costs, the manufacturer chose to use an aluminum oil tank that had undergone a chemical process that made it fire resistant. Due to the company’s greedy decision, our clients died in a crash after the oil within the fire-resistant oil tank was ignited by extreme heat from the turbocharged engine.
Plane crash lawsuits often present more obstacles than other product liability lawsuits because of regulatory agencies and specific laws designed to protect manufacturers. Unfortunately, regulation and enforcement of maintenance and certification procedures are not nearly as rigorous for private aircraft. Additionally, identifying the possible causes of the plane crash can prove challenging. Private aircraft do not have “black boxes”, which commercial planes do. Fortunately, after every civil aviation crash in the United States, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) assigns a team to determine the cause of the crash.
The NTSB will usually do a thorough investigation. However, a lawyer for a plane crash victim should not rely upon the NTSB for any ultimate conclusions. For instance, we often discover the identity of witnesses who were not a part of the NTSB investigation. Further, much of the investigation material supplied by the NTSB to counsel is edited, which makes the NTSB investigation essentially ineffective for civil litigation. However, the NTSB is very good at maintaining evidence and capturing bits and pieces of evidence that can later be evaluated by aircraft experts hired by the parties. In the aircraft cases that we have filed, we have been able to determine the causes of the crashes. If you want additional information relating to aircraft litigation contact Cole Portis, Greg Allen or Ben Baker at 800-898-2034.
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