The pilot of an aircraft has the enormous responsibility of safely transporting his or her passengers to their destination. Although flying is statistically one of the safest means of transportation, pilots are human and do make mistakes. Unfortunately, a pilot's error can lead to catastrophic consequences and cost people their lives. Pilot error accounts for 49 percent of all aviation accidents, and approximately 83 percent of all private aircraft accidents.
If you have been injured, or someone you love has been injured or killed in an aviation accident caused by pilot error, contacting an aviation accident attorney will help to ensure that your rights are protected and that you are compensated for your injuries.
Types of Pilot Error
"Pilot error" can be defined as a mistake, oversight, lapse of judgment, or failure to exercise due care by the pilot of an aircraft while it is in operation. Some examples of pilot error include:
- Incorrect use of aircraft equipment, such as safety or landing gear
- Errors in navigation, sometimes due to inclement weather
- Miscommunication with air traffic controllers
- Inadequate monitoring of speed, altitude and other flight parameters
- Failure to manage fuel levels
- Failure to follow procedures in safety checklists
Although many such errors are unintentional, the pilot can nevertheless be liable if his or her actions were negligent or violated safety regulations established by the government. The standard a pilot is held to differs depending upon what type of aircraft the pilot is flying.
Commercial airlines are classified as "common carriers" because they hold themselves out to the public as transportation providers and will transport anyone who purchases a ticket. Commercial pilots are held to different, and usually more stringent, standards than are private pilots. This is because the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is responsible for regulating common carriers and the agency has imposed uniform standards and operating procedures for commercial pilots.
A commercial pilot's liability is usually based upon whether he or she violated any of these regulations in the performance of his or her duty, and whether such a violation caused an aviation accident. It is therefore important to select an experienced aviation accident attorney with knowledge of FAA regulations if your injury occurred on a commercial airline. Commercial pilots are also held to the same general duty of care required of private pilots, as described below.
Unlike commercial pilots, private pilots are not required by federal law to maintain a heightened standard of care towards passengers. Private pilots are only held to the common negligence standard, which requires them to use due diligence and reasonable care to prevent an accident or injury. A private pilot is expected to possess the skills and knowledge of the ordinary pilot in the industry. The pilot's actions are compared to how a reasonable pilot would act in the same circumstances.
For example, a pilot may be in error during adverse weather if the pilot failed to exercise the due diligence that the average reasonable pilot would exercise in the same situation. The pilot's liability would depend upon whether the pilot could reasonably know of the danger and whether he or she took reasonable steps to avoid the problem (i.e. delaying the flight, changing altitude or speed, etc.)
A pilot may also be faced with criminal charges if his or her actions were reckless, careless, or intentional. For example, both civil and criminal charges could be filed against a pilot who used drugs or alcohol before a flight, who purposely flew beyond the legal number of hours allowed without rest, or who intentionally disregarded safety checklists or instructions.
Other Liable Parties in Pilot Error Accidents
If pilot error contributed to or caused an aviation accident, an injured passenger can file a personal injury lawsuit (or wrongful death suit if a loved one is killed in the accident) not only against the pilot for his or her error, but also against the pilot's employer, the airline. A pilot's error is the airline's error because under a legal doctrine known as "respondeat superior," the high degree of due-care required of a common carrier extends to its employees, including pilots, flight attendants, and maintenance crews.
In the situation of a private pilot whose error caused an aviation accident, and injured party can also sue the aircraft owner under a theory called "vicarious liability." If mechanical failure is also involved as well as pilot error, a products liability claim may be filed against the manufacturer of the aircraft or its components.
An airplane crash due to pilot error is a devastating occurrence. If you or a loved one has been the victim of an aviation accident due to pilot error, it is essential to hire the services of an experienced and reputable aviation accident attorney. The Law Offices of Sterns & Walker is distinguished by its expertise in this complex area of law, and is able to effectively pursue an aviation accident claim on your behalf.