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Aviation & Mass Transit Accidents Law

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Is an Airline Responsible for an Accident Caused by a Third Party?

Airlines can be responsible for aviation accidents even when caused by a third party.

For example, an air traffic controller may improperly guide planes inside an airport during takeoff, landing, and air travel. A pilot might fail to maneuver the airplane correctly, and crew members inside the airplane might forget to perform pre-flight safety or seatbelt demonstrations. All these third parties can create responsibility for an airline.

Why should airlines be held responsible for the mistakes of others? Because third parties are often acting on the airline’s behalf. If the airline did not react reasonably under the circumstances to prevent an accident caused by third parties, you can hold that airline responsible in court.

If you’ve been involved in an airplane accident, consult with an aviation accident attorney to see if you have a case.

Responsibility Created Under International Law

The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) is a United Nations agency supporting safe air travel globally. In 1999, the org adopted the Montreal Convention, creating rules for the safety of airline passengers.

The Montreal Convention updates the Warsaw Convention, an earlier international law that regulates passenger safety. Under the Montreal Convention, airlines are strictly liable for up to around $175,000 in damages caused to passengers; beyond this limit, an air carrier can avoid further liability if it can prove:

  • The airline acted prudently (not negligently) under the circumstances, or
  • The damages were caused only by a third party’s negligence.

The regulation requires all airlines to carry liability insurance. Any airline passenger (or their surviving family members and loved ones) can sue air carriers wherever in America they live, even if the injured passenger was on an international flight. Compensation is available for:

  • Wrongful death.
  • Personal injuries.
  • Mental and emotional injuries, so long as they are connected with physical injuries caused by the accident.

Third Party Liability Civil Law

As a civil claimant who wants to hold an airline responsible for an accident caused by a third party, you must show that the airline is responsible for one or more of the following legal theories:

  • Strict liability.
  • Negligence.
  • Wrongful death.

Strict Liability

To hold the airline responsible under strict liability, you must show that:

  1. You were injured.
  2. The airline’s actions caused the injury.

Airlines can practice caution and still be found liable for causing an accident. For example, the airline may be responsible if they hired a technician who failed to spot a mechanical error in the airplane. Even though the airline and the technician may have worked to find issues with the airplane, the airline will still be responsible for unforeseeable mechanical accidents resulting in injury.


On the other hand, to hold the airline responsible under negligence, you must prove the following:

  1. The airline had a duty to ensure your safety as their airline passenger.
  2. The airline breached (violated) its duty, for instance, by poor hiring practices that resulted in pilot error.
  3. The airline’s failure to prevent pilot error caused the accident and personal injuries to you.
  4. You incurred damages in the form of pain and suffering and medical expenses.

Wrongful Death

In negligence cases involving death, it is common for the family or surviving loved ones to sue for wrongful death. To sue the airline for wrongful death, you must prove the following:

  1. The airline acted negligently.
  2. The airline’s negligence caused the accident and injuries that killed a passenger.
  3. The death resulted in losses to you—for example, loss of income or companionship of your loved one.

An Aviation Accident Attorney Can Help

If an airline accident caused injuries to you or death or injury to your family member, you’ll need recourse. You’re likely confused, tired, and afraid of dealing with medical bills, time lost from work, pain and suffering, and the uncertainty of the future.

In these circumstances, you’ll need a specialized personal injury attorney. A local aviation accident lawyer can help you obtain money. They can negotiate with insurance companies, file your case in court, and help you receive compensation for injuries.

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