Pointing Fingers: Liability in Airplane Crashes
Imagine your dream vacation; is it lazing on the beach in the Bahamas? An adventure in the Swiss Alps? Or a relaxing at a spiritual spa in Thailand? Each location requires a flight, a service that half the planet’s population uses every year.
That said, when boarding our flight to paradise, the last thing you’d worry about is a plane crash. But when such a catastrophic event occurs, while we expect the airliner to be liable, the company itself will scramble to point fingers, so the question begs, who’s really liable in the aftermath of a plane crash?
The event itself initiates a public evaluation of the airliner’s planes, policies, pilots, mechanics, and other staff. Meanwhile, in all the chaos, the family and loved ones of the deceased are looking for answers.
As a starting point, United States’ personal injury cases involving plane crashes are subject to the basic clauses regarding wrongful death, but they’re also subject to the articles established by the 1999 Montreal Convention, a multilateral treaty adopted by a diplomatic meeting of ICAO states (which the US is a member of.)
According to the treaty, while an airline generally cannot avoid liability for the death of a passenger, there are a few loopholes. In order to avoid liability, the airliner must prove it is free from fault and that the crash wasn’t due to the negligence or other wrongful acts of its employees.
This can be the case if the airliner was completely unaware of the faulty equipment, but as nearly all airliners perform safety tests of planes and parts before public usage, the manufacturer would need to have put forth a painstaking effort to mask the ineffectiveness of the equipment; an event that is possible, but highly unlikely and difficult to pull off.
Unless an organized terrorist attack was launched or a regular passenger, knowingly or in ignorance, sabotaged the plane, there are very few scenarios in which the airliner is not at fault.