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United States Airplane and Helicopter Accident Law

"Domestic flights" are flights originating, stopping, and ending within the United States. If any stop printed on the ticket is not within the United States, the flight will fall under international accident law. Once you and your attorney have determined the event was a domestic flight, the next thing you will determine is if the event was an accident or an incident.  Accidents must be reported to the nearest National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) field office, which may be found in the U.S. government phone directory. The NTSB also requires notification of certain types of incidents. The NTSB Part 830 and Title 49 of the Code on Federal Regulations outlines when incident notification is required by law. The NTSB is organization responsible for investigating aircraft and helicopter crashes to discover the likely cause of a crash and, in threfore, the likely individual or entity at fault.

Accidents, crashes, and incidents do not have to be reported to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which is a separate entity from the NTSB. In fact, if you report an accident or incident to the FAA, you may incur an FAA enforcement action. FAA enforcement actions may result in fines or certification suspensions or revocations. However, the NTSB often delegates the investigation to the FAA, or asks the FAA and the aircraft’s manufacture to join in the investigation.

Along with FAA enforcement actions, you may be exposed to civil litigation and criminal charges. When NTSB notification is required, it must be done immediately and in the most efficient manner. When notifying the NTSB about an accident or reportable incident, give all necessary information without giving any extra information. Additionally, although it is important to remember that you must cooperate with the NTSB, aircrew personnel suffering from shock or injury are not required to answer questions until mentally and physically competent. Attorneys can request hospitals to keep NTSB and FAA personnel, as well as the press, away from recovering aircrew.  

Domestic Airplane Accidents: For Injured Passengers and Next of Kin

As an injured party in an airplane accident, or as the survivor of a passenger killed in an airplane accident, you may be entitled to compensation for your loss. Injuries can be incurred from a number of events like crashes, sudden drops, or severe turbulence—just to name a few. The amount of compensation is dependent on the circumstances of your case, as well as federal and state law. It is important to talk with your attorney as soon as possible because of statutes of limitations. Statutes of limitations are time limits on when you are legally allowed to file suit. Airlines often further shorten that time frame through a private statute of limitation that passengers incidentally agree to when buying airline tickets. 

Airplane crashes will undoubtedly be attributable to someone’s actions, whether it is human error (pilots, air traffic controllers, maintenance personnel) or mechanical error (design defects or manufacture defects). Thus, compensation after an airplane crash is very likely. Serious injuries incurred onboard flights are somewhat dependent on the circumstances. For instance, serious injuries from turbulence or a sudden drop of the aircraft when the “fasten seat belt” light was not on are very likely. Even if the light was on, if no announcements were made that the light was on or that there would be turbulence when the flight crew knew there would be turbulence, then compensation is also very likely. An aviation attorney will inspect various avenues to see if the aircrew knew or should have known about the turbulence that caused the injuries. For instance, weather reports, weather pattern analyses, the history of the area and aircrew experience with the area, and previously received pilot reports about the turbulence would all be inspected. 

As mentioned above, applicable laws for airplane accidents differ for domestic and international flights. Domestic flights are flights originating, stopping, and ending within the United States. If any stop printed on the ticket is not within the United States, the flight will fall under international airplane accident laws. For further information, see the article on international aviation law on this site. Once you and your attorney have determined the event was a domestic flight, the next thing you will determine is if the accident occurred while the airline was acting as a "common carrier." In general, common carriers are arilines. An easy means of establishing that a flight was on a common carrier is if the flight was purchased at a standard price, such as if purchased through Expedia online. If, however, the price was negotiated for a block of seats or for the entire aircraft, contract carrier rules likely apply. 

Domestic flights on common carriers require the highest standard of care from the airline. This means the airline must have provided more than ordinary care a reasonable person would use, as required in a contract carrier flight. Generally, when common carriers are providing the highest degree of human care and foresight possible to prevent an accident, that standard is limited to the time the passenger is on the aircraft. A lesser standard of care is required for accidents occurring in airport terminals. When this high standard of care is breached, there are no limits on recovery. However, the state where your case is filed may have recovery limits. Based on the facts of your case, your attorney will choose the best place for your case to be tried.   


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