Airplanes are still among the safest mode of transportation available today in South Carolina and throughout the country. Although the percentages of death and serious injury caused by plane crashes in South Carolina are small compared to other types of injury accidents, the results are almost always devastating to the victim’s families and oftentimes involve the loss of many lives. Some of the leading causes of commercial and general aviation accidents are uncontained engine failures, controlled flight into terrain, approach and landing, loss of control, runway incursions, pilot error, improper maintenance, structural defects, and weather conditions including turbulence.
The law governing an airplane crash depends, in part, on whether the airplane accident involved an air carrier (like a commercial commuter or passenger airline) or a private civilian accident. If the airplane that crashed was private, then traditional negligence standards of ordinary and reasonable care apply. An owner of a private airplane involved in an accident or crash may be held legally liable for the negligence of a mechanic or pilot.
Airline carriers, like a commuter or passenger airline, are required to take much greater care than ordinary civilians. Thus, major airlines like Delta, Northwest, United, and American must use the highest care to prevent airplane crashes and aviation accidents. Whether the flight was domestic or international will determine what rights of legal recovery are available. Regarding international flights, two agreements, the Warsaw Convention and Montreal Protocol, limit the amount of damages for which an airline may be responsible unless the accident involves reckless wrongdoing (although some U.S. carriers have agreed to waive these limitations under certain circumstances). Typically, damages in airplane crashes and aviation accidents are not capped.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigates major aviation accidents. Upon notification, NTSB assembles a “Go Team,” which varies in size depending on the severity of the accident and the complexity of the issues involved. This team may consist of experts in many different specialties, and is coordinated by the investigator-in-charge. Depending on the nature of the accident, the team may investigate areas such as structures, systems, powerplants, human performance, fire and explosion, meteorology, radar data, event recorders, and witness statements, among others. After an investigation is completed, a detailed narrative report is prepared that sets forth findings of the investigative team and identifies the probable cause of the accident. More information about NTSB can be found on their website at http://www.ntsb.gov/aviation/aviation.htm. Additionally, the Office of Accident Investigation (AAI), an organization within the Federal Aviation Administration, investigates aviation accidents to detect unsafe conditions and trends. More information on AAI can be found on their website at http://www1.faa.gov/avr/aai/aaihome.htm.