Aviation Accident Responsibility
Anyone who has visited an American airport will immediately get the sense that the aviation industry is very large and complex. A large airport will have numerous employees working for several supporting companies, serving several different airline services. As such, when a victim is injured by someone who is working in the aviation industry, it can sometimes be a challenge figuring out the correct parties to name in a lawsuit. Below is a partial list of some common parties who may be held responsible in an aviation accident case.
First, the employees who caused the accident are common targets of a lawsuit. For example, in a case where a victim is negligently dropped out of a wheelchair, whichever employee dropped the victim is an obvious easy target for a lawsuit. The disadvantage of naming employees, however, is the fact that they sometimes do not carry insurance and likely have no collectible assets. This is a particular problem in states such as Texas, where homestead acts are designed to protect the employee’s cars and home from seizure. Therefore, a victim may be able to obtain a judgment against employees, but that judgment is worthless unless the employee has an eligible asset that may be seized.
Second, the employer of whoever caused the accident may be liable. It may come as a surprise, but often the employer of whoever caused the accident is not an airport or an airline, but an independent contractor. For example, in a situation where an individual suffers injury after a wheelchair assistant negligently transports them through the airport or onto the plane, the chances are that this assistant is actually employed and trained by an independent contractor and not the airlines or airport. If someone is injured in a wheelchair accident at an airline, the independent contractor may be responsible and liable for the individual’s injuries. Companies providing wheelchair service can be reached through a number of legal theories, including but not limited to negligent hiring, negligent retention, and respondeat superior (which holds employers liable for the acts of their employees). These companies often carry insurance policies, that provide coverage for wheelchair accidents.
Third, the airport may be liable. This makes sense in many situations, such as when an airport employee was involved in the incident or when the airport grounds were in a dangerous condition and this caused the accident. It should be noted that airports that are run by the government may be more difficult to sue because they may qualify for what is called sovereign immunity, which limits the ability of individuals to sue government institutions in many, but not all, cases.
Fourth, the airline may be liable. Airlines are sometimes directly involved in injuring a victim, for example the failure to divert case of Yahya v. Yemenia-Yemen Airways. Additionally, even though the wheelchair attendant may not be a direct employee of the airlines, because the individual injured is the airline’s customer they may still be responsible pursuant to statute or contract (The ticket that each passenger purchases is also a contract with the airlines). Like companies providing wheelchair services, airlines often have extensive insurance policies.
Depending on the facts of the case, some or all of the above parties may be pursued by a victim through a lawsuit. What is more, the above list is not complete and additional parties may also be pursued in some cases. An experienced aviation attorney can help a victim sort through potential parties and settle on who should be sued for maximum chances of recovery.
If you or a loved one have been injured, Call Carabin Shaw at 1.800.862.1260. We Can Help.