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Understanding Cases Involving Aviation Accidents

It's hard to believe that it was a mere 110 years ago that mankind had no experience in heavier-than-air flight – and it took only half that time for us to get to the moon. Today, air travel is one of the safest and fastest methods of getting anywhere in the world (National Geographic claims more people die in donkey-related accidents each year than die of aviation-related accidents). But for all of the precautions, plane crashes, when they do occur, are almost universally horrible tragedies. We asked an aviation attorney in Florida to talk us through an example plane crash:

Anatomy of a Plane Crash

A modern aircraft is an extraordinarily complex machine. Even the four-person, single-engine microplanes are a maze of gears, pistons, gauges, hydraulics, electrics, pneumatics, and mechanics – and while many backup systems and redundancies are built in, there will always be elements that can cause a plane crash if they fail.

In fact, mechanical failure is the leading cause of airplane crashes. Mechanical failure, in technical terms, means "one or more parts of the airplane became compromised in a manner that prevented the plane from continuing to fly normally." A gasket in a gasoline line failing or an instrument that gave the pilot the wrong data are two arbitrary examples.

The other major reason that airplane wrecks occur is pilot error. Any of the thousands of mistakes a pilot might make that lead to the plane being unable to fly properly fall under the umbrella of 'pilot error'. Unfortunately for the survivors looking for someone to blame, pilot error is notoriously hard to prove.

The Aftermath

The first part of any aviation disaster – after the impact – is the investigation. Specialists in a dozen different disciplines swarm over the site collecting information. Investigators pore over the crew files, the maintenance records, and the flight manifests looking for clues. Eventually, one or more of the victim's families will hire an aviation lawyer. Florida law allows them to pursue separate or combined cases, so the number of attorneys may vary case by case.

Depending on how nasty the crash is and how many factors are involved, it can take anywhere from a few days to several years before the courts apportion blame for the accident Of course, the airplane manufacturer and the airline itself always have their own lawyers whose job is to prove that their respective entities are not at fault. Occasionally the families of the pilot(s) and crew will even hire their own lawyers to defend their deceased relatives from blame.

Once all of the lawyers have collected, sifted, and weighed the evidence, they will all argue in court and the judge will determine once and for all where the blame lies. Only then can the blame-carriers be sued for the wrongful deaths and other related charges by the families of the victims.