Media coverage of plane accidents focuses on crashes of huge jets, but many crashes involve smaller planes. Some accidents result from issues beyond human control, such as sudden storms. However, other small plane crashes arise from problems such as defective components, pilot errors, or inadequate maintenance of the aircraft. A victim may bring claims against several possible defendants, including the manufacturer, the airline, the owner, the maintenance company, or the pilot. Since the cause of an accident may not be immediately obvious, experts may need to conduct a thorough investigation to determine who was at fault.
An airline or another owner or operator of a small plane often will conduct an investigation after a crash to determine what could have caused it. A victim still should conduct their own investigation, since they may have different reasons for their investigation, and they may not get the full results from prior investigations.
Certain hazards specific to small planes may increase the risk of accidents. Their materials are less sturdy, making them more vulnerable to severe weather that jolts the plane and its interior. This could injure a passenger or cause a malfunction that results in a crash. Smaller aircraft have fewer safety systems than large planes, which means that a single malfunction may have a more serious effect. Improper passenger behavior may distract a pilot of a small plane more than a pilot of a massive airliner. Pilots of small planes may be less experienced and less prepared to respond to emergencies.
Proving Fault for Small Plane Crashes
As with other plane crashes, a victim of a small plane accident usually will need to prove negligence to establish the liability of a defendant. This means that the defendant was required to meet a certain standard of care related to making, operating, or maintaining the aircraft, but they failed to meet this standard. The victim also must show that they would not have been injured if the defendant had met the applicable standard of care. If they can prove these elements, the victim can recover compensation for financial costs, such as medical bills and lost income, in addition to non-economic forms of harm, such as pain and suffering.
In some cases, a victim suing a defendant such as a manufacturer based on a defective component may use a theory of strict liability. This is less demanding than negligence because it does not require proving a lack of reasonable care. The victim simply must show that the defendant made or distributed a product that contained a manufacturing or design defect, and this defect caused their injuries.
Finding the "Deep Pockets"
Bringing all the potentially liable parties into a lawsuit after a small plane accident may be critical because some defendants may not have enough resources to compensate a victim. For example, an individual pilot may not be able to pay a judgment, so suing an at-fault manufacturer or another party with “deep pockets” could make a huge difference.
Some severe small plane crashes result in the death of a victim. This may allow the loved ones or the estate of the victim to pursue a wrongful death claim under state laws. The steps of proving liability in these claims are similar to ordinary negligence claims, but distinctive procedural rules may apply. Damages may cover items such as loss of companionship and support, medical expenses, and funeral costs.
Homeowner Claims Following Landings on Private Property
Sometimes a small plane might make an unexpected landing on private property. A homeowner generally will not suffer physical injuries in these situations, unless the plane directly strikes their home. However, they might suffer financial losses due to property damage. A farmer or rancher might lose crops or livestock if a small plane lands on their property. The property owner usually will be entitled to compensation from the company that operated the plane, even if the landing was an emergency landing.
If the company does not settle fairly with the property owner, they might pursue mediation or other forms of alternative dispute resolution. These can provide a more efficient, cost-effective solution than going to court, but sometimes formal litigation proves necessary. Regardless of whether the property owner proceeds through mediation or litigation, they should gather photographs, videos, witness statements, and other evidence to document the accident and its effect on their property.