Aviation Accidents Lawsuits: What You Should Know

Aviation accident lawsuits can more complicated than other types of accident lawsuits – from procedural issues when international flights were involved to what types of experts are needed to prove your case. We asked an expert to provide us with the information that you should know.

Attorney Larry Goldhirsch

Larry Goldhirsch, a New York plaintiffs’ attorney with 38 years of experience whose practice represents aviation accident victims, knows aviation accident law. In fact, he authored a book on the Warsaw Convention (now the Montreal Convention), a treaty which regulates international aviation accidents. Goldhirsch’s firm handles domestic and international cases, so we asked him to provide us with answers to the following questions:

Q: How long does it take to litigate international cases?

A: Under the Montreal Convention, cases were supposed to be settled much more quickly. Unfortunately, they’re not and it often takes years to run those cases through the process because of definitions of damages, definitions of accidents and ultimately who is at fault. Is it the manufacturer of the finished product? Is it a sub-contractor who manufactured an entertainment system that perhaps overheated and caused a fire on the plane? Is it the entity that manufactured the wiring on the entertainment system? You can litigate for years over that.

Until the defendants get together and say, ‘Okay, we’ll settle the cases at either 50/50 or 75/25,’ the people who are injured and killed have to wait for that to come about. It can often take many, many years, not so much for the injured parties to reach an accord with what they think they deserve, but with the defendants to decide who pays what percentage of the settlements.

Q: What procedural issues arise in aviation accident cases?

A: Procedural issues can arise when a mass accident, such as an aviation case, is involved as these cases can be brought in state courts, federal courts and sometimes the federal and state cases are tied and worked together.

It’s all very complicated. Usually, lawyers who do these types of cases are familiar with all the different rules involved when you have a ‘multi district’ case, such as an aviation case. Multi district means that it comes from different district courts in the United States and has to be litigated in a one place. Courts do not want 50 different states handling 50 cases. They want all of the cases in one court, if possible. Sometimes this is available and sometimes it isn’t and the cases get scattered.

Q: What types of experts that might be used in aviation accident cases?

A: You have aviation engineers to determine first, whether or not a product failed, whether it was pilot error or a combination of those. Many times, even though it may be a pilot mistake, it may be due to the training the pilot received or it may be due to the manual that the company that manufactured or flew the plane put out for the pilots to read.

Many times you’ll find that manufacturers will point the finger at the pilots to take the burden off the manufacturing defendant and the airlines will point the finger at the manufacturer to take the burden off the airline. Each will point the finger at the other and many times you have to sort it out with airplane manufacturing engineers, airplane design engineers, avionics engineers and others.

It helps that I’m also an engineer as well as an attorney, but nothing ever happens because of one factor. There usually are many different factors coming together.

Q: What type of representation is best?

A: Many times, general practitioners or negligence lawyers might not know the applicable rules and try to file the case themselves. If they don’t team up with an aviation lawyer, they’re going to get into a lot of trouble or start doing a lot of research that maybe has been done and it might not be worth their while to do that.

It’s advisable to check out the web and go online with some websites to see who is involved in this litigation, see what the government has already said about it, find out who the aviation lawyers are and talk with them about it. Then you can choose one after you’ve interviewed one, two or three or more lawyers and see who’s to your liking.

If you’ve been injured in an aviation accident, contact an experienced lawyer   whose practice focuses in this area of the law to discuss your situation. Consultations are free, without obligation and are strictly confidential.