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There are few things more terrifying than being injured in a plane crash. When you board a plane, you trust that the plane is built suitably, that the pilot is qualified and that you can enjoy this mode of transportation in a safe, efficient manner. In the wake of an airplane accident, there are many questions that need to be answered regarding where the crash occurred, whether you should file individually or as a class action suit, etc. According to data from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), the majority of civil aviation accidents involve private airplanes.
In one wrongful death suit, the family members of a deceased father and son whose plane crashed while they flew toward Moloka'i, received $3.5 million in damages.
After the NTSB examined the accident, it found that "…the flight crew made several mistakes during its approach to Moloka'i, including selecting the wrong frequency for activating pilot-controlled runway lighting, concluding that the airport was obscured by clouds despite weather information to the contrary, misstating instrument approach headings and descent altitudes and descending below appropriate altitudes."
Private Pilots' Duty of Care
While commercial airlines are considered common carriers, private pilots are not required by federal law to maintain a strict standard of care toward passengers. The standard that private pilots are held to is called "common negligence standard." This standard requires private pilots to use "due diligence and reasonable care to prevent an accident or injury." A private pilot is expected to possess the same knowledge and skills as a commercial pilot. His/her actions will be compared to how a "reasonable pilot" would act under the same circumstances.
Under "vicarious liability," when a private pilot causes a plane accident, the injured party can sue the aircraft owner as well.
Factors That Can Lead to a Private Plane Crash
Parties that are frequently sued in the aftermath of a plane crash include the pilots, the airline, the owner of the aircraft, the manufacturer, the aircraft maintenance provider, the government, and airport operators. Several varying factors can lead to a plane crash, anything from pilot error to mechanical error to weather to air traffic control errors to a design flaw.
According to statistics from 1950 to 2006, the most common factors that lead to a plane accident are:
- 53% - Pilot Error
- 21% - Mechanical Error
- 11% - Weather
- 8% - Other Human Error
- 6% - Sabotage
- 1% - Other Causes
Surprisingly, some statistics say that pilot error actually accounts for 83% of private aircraft accidents.
Private Plane Accident FAQ
Are private planes more likely to crash?
Statistically speaking, the odds of crashing in a small plane are higher than in a commercial aircraft. Private aircraft, including personal planes, corporate jets, and helicopters, are all grouped into the category of “general aviation” by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). The NTSP expresses the accident rate for commercial versus general aviation by the number of accidents per 100,000 flight hours. In 2015, the fatal accident rate was .84 and the total accident rate was 5.32. These odds are very low, but the odds of dying in a commercial airline accident are far lower. In 2015, the fatality rate for U.S. commercial airlines was 0. The accident rate was 0.155 per 100,00 flight hours.
Who can be held liable for a private plane accident?
Liability in a private plane accident may lie with the pilot, air traffic control, the plane manufacturer, a mechanic, or possibly another party. Because private planes are not required to have “black boxes” that record everything while the plane is in operation, it can be more difficult to investigate these accidents. With the right sources and expert investigators, however, it is possible to determine cause and fault. At Arnold & Itkin, we know exactly what it takes to investigate private plane crashes and build compelling cases on behalf of the victims’ families. We do whatever it takes to hold at-fault parties accountable, no matter what.
Is it easier to get a license to fly a private plane than a commercial plane?
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) actually issues certificates, not licenses, for pilots. No matter what you call them, however, they do the same thing: they authorize a person to fly an aircraft for a specific purpose. There are different types of certifications, and it is easier to obtain a private pilot license than a commercial pilot license.
To be a private pilot, you must:
- Be at least 17 years old
- Have a student, sport, or recreational pilot certificate
- Have a third-class medical certificate or higher
- Have completed a minimum of 35-40 flight hours
To be a commercial pilot, you must:
- Be at least 18 years old
- Have a private pilot certificate
- Have a second-class medical certificate or higher
- Have completed at least 190-250 hours of flight time
If you’re flying private, you should make yourself aware of your pilot’s qualifications and experience. Some private pilots have hundreds upon hundreds of flight hours and impeccable records, while others may be less experienced. You wouldn’t want your flight to fall into a new pilot’s “practice” time.
Helping Plane Crash Victims Fight for Fair Compensation
Private plane accidents tend to be more challenging than a commercial aircraft lawsuit. Because private aircraft don't have "black boxes" and undergo less rigorous certification procedures, accidents can occur more frequently. In these instances, victims are often entitled to economic damages and non-economic damages. Most of the time, plane accidents occur when a plane is taking off, landing, or still on the runway. Plane accidents don't always involve crashes. They can involve a person tripping on the stairs, baggage shifting and falling, assault on an airplane, etc. Liability law for general aviators states that an airplane owner can be held responsible if a passenger is hurt by an object falling during flight.
If you were injured or lost a loved one in a private plane accident, contact Arnold & Itkin. We have the resources and skill to make a difference in your case—and your future.