Plane Accident and Wrongful Death Lawsuits

Wrongful death claims have certain requirements that differ from personal injury claims. The individual suing for wrongful death must have a relationship to the decedent on whose behalf the suit is being brought. In some states only parents, children, spouses or executors of the decedent's estate may bring a wrongful death claim. As part of such a claim, the plaintiff must show that the decedent's death resulted from the negligent, wanton or willful actions of the defendant air carrier. In such cases, if the death occurred instantaneously, the jury can award the plaintiff from loss of consortium, lost wages, loss of future income or earning capacity. In cases where death does not occur instantaneously, and the plaintiff can prove the decedent's conscious suffering, the jury can also award damages for pain and suffering, bodily mutilation, and mental anguish.

In a case in which mechanical failure contributed to the accident, the plaintiff may have to establish that the pilot's negligence contributed to the accident or that a mechanic negligently failed to detect or properly repair a component of the plane. In such cases, the plaintiff can maintain a lawsuit against the common air carrier or the owner of the private plane. A few states may also allow an action for breach of implied warranty of a plane's airworthiness in such a case; however, many states do not allow an implied breach of warranty to support a wrongful death suit.

Where a mechanical failure results from a defect in the design or construction of an airplane or a component of the airplane, the plaintiff may establish a products liability claim against the manufacturer of the component or the airplane. In a products liability claim based on defective construction or manufacturing, the plaintiff must establish that the manufacturer of the component that caused the accident failed to detect a defect in the particular component that was used in the airplane that had the accident.

Products liability based on the premise that the design of the particular component was defective represents a unique hurdle for a plaintiff, in that the plaintiff must establish that the manufacturer could have used a reasonable, alternative design that would have prevented the injury. A plaintiff might incur great expense in pursuing a products liability case based on defective design. In order to establish a reasonable, alternative design the plaintiff will likely have to hire an engineer or other expert to critique the manufacturer's design and to suggest the alternative design. A products liability case faces a better chance for success if prior cases have already established that the design of the component is defective.

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