People often use helicopters for transportation or recreation, but they are not easy to operate and involve significant risks. Helicopters have been estimated to be 40 times more likely than standard planes to be involved in accidents. They consist of many complex parts, and a single mechanical failure can create a chain reaction that causes a crash. Since they fly close to the ground, helicopters may collide with stationary objects as well.
Helicopter crashes are also likely to cause serious injuries. These small, light aircraft provide little protection for their occupants if a crash occurs. Moreover, helicopters have weaker safety standards and safety features than planes. Injuries resulting from helicopter accidents often include brain trauma, broken bones, burn injuries, and paralysis and other spinal cord injuries. Some victims even suffer a tragic loss of life. A victim or their family members may be able to pursue a claim against any parties that were at fault.
Preserving Evidence After a Helicopter Accident
Since helicopter accident cases tend to be complex and technical, a victim must make sure to preserve any evidence that may be relevant to a claim. This is a key reason to consult an attorney soon after a crash.
Common Causes of Helicopter Accidents
After a helicopter accident, experts who are familiar with the construction, operation, and maintenance of these aircraft may offer opinions on who was responsible. In some cases, more than one party may have been at fault. For example, perhaps a helicopter manufacturer produced a defective component that failed during a flight, and perhaps a helicopter pilot failed to respond appropriately to the emergency. Determining who was at fault is critical to deciding who should be sued. Causes of helicopter crashes include:
Pilot error: A pilot may make a careless or reckless decision in operating the helicopter that a reasonable, competent pilot would not have made.
Inadequate training: A pilot who has not received sufficient instructions from a helicopter manufacturer or a pilot training program may not know how to operate the helicopter safely or how to handle an emergency situation.
Improper maintenance: A crash may result from a failure to properly check a helicopter for problems between flights or from a mistake made during repairs.
Defective parts: A manufacturer may make a component with improper materials or with other inherent flaws that create a safety hazard.
Theories of liability in a helicopter accident claim may depend partly on state law and partly on the defendant. Many cases will proceed under a theory of negligence, which involves proving that the victim was injured because the defendant failed to use reasonable care under the circumstances. Lawsuits against a manufacturer that produced a defective helicopter component may rely on a theory of strict liability. This allows a victim to establish fault if they were injured because the part was defective, regardless of whether the manufacturer used reasonable care.
Compensation for Helicopter Accidents
Victims of helicopter crashes may recover economic and non-economic damages. The specific types of damages available will depend on state law, but often they include medical expenses, lost income, lost earning capacity, property damage, pain and suffering, emotional distress, and scarring and disfigurement. A victim can potentially recover compensation for future losses, such as anticipated medical costs, if they can prove them with reasonable certainty. These amounts may be substantial in helicopter accident cases because the injuries tend to be severe and often permanent. A victim may need to retain experts to explain the full scope of their injuries.
Compensation for a Fatal Helicopter Accident
State wrongful death laws often allow specified family members, the estate of a victim, or both to recover certain damages after a fatal accident. These may include medical and burial expenses, the pain and suffering of the victim before their death, and the loss of support, companionship, and guidance sustained by their family members.
In cases involving extreme behavior by the defendant, a victim may recover punitive damages as well. State law often opens the door to punitive damages when a defendant acted recklessly or with gross negligence or a disregard for human life. These damages extend beyond compensatory damages, serving to punish a defendant and deter other people or entities from acting similarly.