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Legal Options for Family Members of Airplane Crash Victims

Published on May 18, 2021 by Thomas Law Offices.

airplane accidents

While airplane crashes are rare, they do happen. When an airline disaster occurs, the federal government steps in to determine the cause of the accident and provide support services to victims and survivors. If you lost a loved one in an airplane crash, you may be able to take legal action against the allegedly negligent party and seek compensation for your family’s losses. The process can be complex, so let’s start by looking at your family’s legal options and what you can expect.

Types of Airplane Accident Claims

Determining the cause of an airplane crash is an intense process. It involves investigations by multiple parties and will ultimately determine what legal claims are available and who can sue. Most crashes are caused by pilot error, defective equipment, faulty designs or maintenance, and fuel problems. Depending on the cause, plaintiffs may be able to file the following types of claims:

  • Product Liability. Defective equipment, faulty designs, and structural problems can result in a plane crash. When that happens, plaintiffs may have the ability to file a product liability claim against the manufacturer or distributor of the aircraft or the faulty part. Your lawyer will explain how strict liability applies to your claim, which essentially means you only need to prove the defective part caused the crash and your loved one’s loss of life.
  • Negligence. In the event the crash was the result of a pilot’s mistake or other human error, you may be able to file a negligence claim against that person or the airline. This type of claim alleges the victim was injured or killed directly because of someone’s carelessness.
  • Federal Tort Claims Act. If it’s believed a Federal Aviation Agency (FAA) employee caused the airplane accident, plaintiffs are required to take legal action under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA).

Domestic vs. International Lawsuits

The lawsuit your family files will be affected by the type of flight your loved one took. If your loved one was traveling domestically, you can usually file a claim with your home state. This is especially true if that was where the flight originated from or that was the intended destination. If, however, your loved one was involved in an international airline crash, those lawsuits are governed by the Warsaw and Montreal Conventions. The IATA agreement decides where the lawsuit can be brought. Typically, you’ll be able to file the lawsuit in your home country, in the airline’s home country, the place where the ticket was purchased, or the intended destination.

Compensation and Recovery for Airplane Crash Victims’ Families

If you are taking legal action against the pilot, airline, or FAA for the wrongful death of your loved one, you may be eligible for compensation, also known as damages, for economic and noneconomic losses. Economic losses, in this situation, would be for funeral and burial expenses and your loved one’s lost income or benefits.

Noneconomic damages may be available for loss of support, loss of a parent’s nurture, care, and guidance, and grief and suffering. The damages available will vary greatly on a case-by-case situation depending on where the accident happened and where the claim is filed.

Federal Assistance for Families

In addition to any compensation available through a claim, it’s also important for families to understand what the duties are of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) when it comes to assistance for surviving family members. Under the Aviation Disaster Family Assistance Act, the NTSB must designate an independent, nonprofit organization to coordinate services like mental health and counseling, a disruption-free grieving place, victim identification, daily briefs to families, translation services, and more.

The Aviation Disaster Family Assistance Act also requires the airline to establish a toll-free telephone line for families of victims, list all passengers on the flight and inform families before the list is made public, inform families of deaths, and help families travel to the location of the accident and provide room and board.

Contact Thomas Law Offices

Losing a loved one is never easy, but coping with the loss can be harder to deal with when you know someone else is responsible for the death. If you’ve lost a loved one in an airplane crash, it’s important to have a strong law firm by your side.

Airplane accident claims are complex and can take years to settle. At Thomas Law Offices, we want you to have time with your family to grieve together and celebrate your loved one’s life while we handle as much of the legal process as we can. If you think you have a case, contact us today.


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Meet Our Founder

Tad Thomas - Trial Lawyer

Tad Thomas

Managing Partner

Tad Thomas has dedicated his practice to representing plaintiffs in various types of civil litigation, including personal injury, business litigation, class actions, and multi-district litigation.

After graduating with his law degree in 2000 from Salmon P. Chase College of Law at Northern Kentucky University, Mr. Thomas immediately opened his own private practice and began representing injury victims.

In 2011, Thomas Law Offices was established in Louisville, Kentucky. Over the past decade, Mr. Thomas has expanded his firm and now has offices in three additional locations: Cincinnati, Ohio, Columbia, Missouri, and Chicago, Illinois. He is also a frequent lecturer on topics like trial skills and ethics and technology.

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