Fighting Tirelessly for Victims of International Aviation Accidents
By 2030, 1.8 billion people will be traveling internationally. This staggering increase in demand for air travel, combined with more flights to hard-to-reach locations using smaller types of aircraft, means that if something goes wrong, more travelers are at risk of being in a plane crash or accident with tragic consequences. Whether your transatlantic flight originates or ends in the United States, or if an incident occurs while your aircraft is over international waters, a different set of laws and regulations applies. These factors make these types of personal injury and wrongful death cases extremely complex, making it extremely important to engage an international aviation attorney like the professionals at Slack Davis Sanger to handle your case.
Risks of International Travel
Depending on your destination, carriers and operators may operate under regulations requiring fewer pilot qualifications and lower training standards, putting travelers at an increased risk of being in a serious accident. Regulations that exist may not be enforced, and investigations after these tragedies may be insufficient or flawed. Visitors traveling to remote areas may be more likely to take smaller planes to their destinations which are more vulnerable to flying dangers, and these airstrips may not be maintained to the degree to which we see in large U.S. cities.
Aviation cases abroad are extremely complex, requiring a skilled analysis of causation, liability, and jurisdictional issues. Only the most experienced international aviation lawyers can evaluate all applicable regulations to determine where and how to try your case to secure the best possible compensation for your losses.
The international aviation attorneys at Slack Davis Sanger have the experience, knowledge, and resources to apply principles of international law for a crash or accident that occurs anywhere outside the United States. With multiple licensed pilots and a former NASA aerospace engineer on our team, we have a thorough understanding of what training is required of pilots and what maintenance is required for aircraft, as well as requirements for the air travel companies themselves.
Our team has litigated dozens of personal injury and wrongful death aviation cases in other countries, including Australia, the Bahamas, Belize, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, France, Guatemala, Haiti, Jamaica, Kenya, Mexico, New Zealand, Nigeria, Peru, South Africa, Spain, Ukraine, and Venezuela.
Causes of International Aviation Accidents
According to the International Air Transport Association, the most common causes of overseas accidents in 2018 were because of:
- Loss of control in-flight, such as from an engine stalling or poor weather conditions
- Improper takeoff, also known as “runway incursion”
- Controlled flight into terrain which occurs when a pilot is unfamiliar with the terrain and accidentally flies the aircraft into a mountainside or another obstacle
- Ground damage, which includes improper maintenance to an aircraft
- Gear collapse, also called a belly landing, when the plane’s gears do not become fully extended before landing
- Tail strike, or when the tail of the plane hits another object or the ground
- Hard landing which can happen due to poor weather conditions or when a pilot loses control of the plane
According to this safety report, the most common countermeasures that were not taken that could have prevented these avoidable accidents included adequate crew performance, cross-checking, and correct in-flight decision making. Victims of these crashes and their families need a strong advocate for their interests to help determine the best next steps after one of these tragedies.
Types of International Aviation Disasters
The aftermath of an airplane accident can be devastating for the victims and their families. When traveling internationally, passengers may not realize that less stringent pilot training and aircraft maintenance standards may apply, which could put you at a higher risk for a life-altering injury—or even death. Even more troubling is the fact that regulatory agencies do not keep track of what may be a rising number of near-misses as the overall demand for air travel increases. For example, a recent study found that over 95% of pilots concede that they have landed an airplane when conditions dictate they shouldn’t have.
Our attorneys, working with local co-counsel, have successfully represented clients in a number of challenging cases in international locations, including commercial accidents, private plane accidents, and helicopter accidents.
Commercial Airplane Crashes and Accidents
In just the first three months of 2018, more than 177 people lost their lives in commercial plane crashes in Russia, Iran, and Nepal. In October of 2018 and March of 2019, two Boeing 737 Max 8 crashes resulted in 346 fatalities. Countless others have been seriously injured in other overseas crashes in recent years.
When handling a commercial airline crash outside the U.S. with passengers from multiple countries, knowledge of the various international laws that govern injuries, wrongful death, and survivor actions in aircraft litigation is essential. The international aviation attorneys at Slack Davis Sanger use extensive understanding of these regulations to file suit in jurisdictions most advantageous to our clients.
When cases are brought against the airline or other major corporations, airline accident lawyers must battle strong, well-funded defense teams. Our firm’s extensive experience with aviation law and regulations can be a welcome relief to families of passengers killed in international air crashes, as well as to passengers who have survived but are facing a long road ahead with life-altering injuries.
Private Plane Crashes and Accidents
Some plane crashes overseas involve passengers taking smaller planes to reach tourist destinations, such as the Costa Rican airplane that went down in the mountains in late 2017, resulting in the deaths of ten Americans and two crew members. In these types of cases, pilot inexperience, the safety record of the charter company, the age of the aircraft, and maintenance performed on the plane could all be factors that contributed to this catastrophic accident. The challenges of proving causation can be complex. Yet, by applying their wealth of experience, the international airplane crash lawyers at Slack Davis Sanger can pursue all available legal options to best represent victims and their loved ones in their pursuit of justice.
Helicopters crash for many of the same reasons that planes do, including pilot error, mechanical failures, and a lack of fuel. Unlike a passenger jet, which can stay in the air with one functioning engine, a helicopter with a malfunctioning rotor, rotor shaft, main gearbox, or tail rotor will fall out of the sky, putting the lives of the passengers, crew, and individuals on the ground in peril. In addition, airplane regulators require redundancy in components that are critical to flight operations, whereas helicopters have no corresponding safety measures. Whether it’s an international tour helicopter, air ambulance, charter helicopter, or offshore helicopter crash, the lawyers at Slack Davis Sanger can advocate for your interests if you or a family member was a victim in an international accident or crash.
The Role of Automation in Airplane Crashes
Commercial airplanes have become increasingly advanced in recent years, giving pilots the ability to allow computer systems to handle most of the technical parts of flying for the majority of the time in the air. While these features were built to make flying safer, many pilots lack the knowledge or training to properly fly a plane when an unexpected problem arises.
The two recent Boeing 737 Max 8 accidents that occurred within five months of each other were found to be caused by a failure in automation. Boeing manufacturers created this plane with a larger engine than previous aircraft. Research found that a bigger engine could cause the plane’s nose to tip upward, which could lead to a stall. To counteract this, Boeing added the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) software to its flight control software. However, Boeing failed to properly notify or train pilots on this new system. To make matters worse, this system malfunctioned, resulting in it being activated when it was not necessary. In these two tragic crashes, the plane’s nose was pushed down by the MCAS, and the pilots were not able to counteract the system in time to keep the plane in the air.
Being licensed pilots themselves, our team of attorneys understand how and why mistakes can play a role in these types of cases and can use this knowledge to bring victims and their families justice when formidable opponents are on the other side of the table.
International Agreements and Institutions Governing Aviation Cases
One of the reasons that international plane crash cases require such specialized knowledge is that a separate set of rules and regulations apply in these situations. The team at Slack Davis Sanger is well-versed in the nuances of how these accords operate and how to best pursue a legal strategy to achieve the most auspicious outcome on behalf of our clients and their loved ones.
Montreal Convention: Rules Governing International Flights
The Montreal Convention (sometimes referred to as MC99) is the main international treaty that governs airline liability if passengers are injured or killed in an accident while on an international flight. Under the Montreal Convention, a carrier is liable without proof of fault in the event of death or bodily injury of a passenger caused by an accident on board the aircraft or in the course of any of the operations of embarking or disembarking.
If any part of a passenger’s itinerary has an international component, the Montreal Convention will apply to the entire trip. For example, if a passenger is traveling from McAllen, Texas, to London, England, with a stop in Dallas-Fort Worth, and an accident occurs on the domestic McAllen-to-Dallas-Fort Worth portion of the flight, the Montreal Convention would apply due to the intended itinerary’s international destination. Under the Montreal Convention, you are required to file your lawsuit within two years of the accident.
Death on the High Seas Act
Originally enacted to compensate victims of shipwrecks and other disasters in international waters, the Death on the High Seas Act (DOHSA) enabled widows to recover damages for their husbands’ future earnings. The law was very restrictive, and compensation relied on the salvage of the vessel, which meant: no salvage, no compensation.
Today’s DOHSA is less restrictive, but still applies to accidents on the high seas of U.S., state, or territorial waters. Over the years, airlines have pushed to apply this law to air crash litigation when the crash was at sea, since non-financial damages, such as loss of consortium, survivor’s grief, and any pre-death pain and suffering of a decedent, were not recoverable under DOHSA. Under the most recent modifications to DOHSA, if a commercial aviation accident occurs within 12 nautical miles from shore, then DOHSA will not apply. Instead, the rules applicable under federal, state, and other appropriate jurisdictions apply. The amended DOHSA also allows for the recovery of non-pecuniary damages for wrongful death, which is defined as the loss of care, comfort, and companionship. It does not allow for the recovery of pain and suffering prior to death or for the recovery of punitive damages.
No matter what type of international airplane accident occurs, or which laws and regulations apply, attorneys at Slack Davis Sanger have the experience, training, and skill to seek advantageous resolution for our clients.
Slack Davis Sanger: Advocates for Change
While there will always be a risk when taking an international flight, there are steps that can be taken to improve safety regulations in international travel. When you have Slack Davis Sanger on your team, we will fight not only for the justice and compensation you deserve, but we will also fight for reform in the industry. With our deep knowledge of international aviation law, we are properly equipped to fight for necessary changes to protect Americans traveling overseas.