What Constitutes An Airplane Accident?

Howie, Sacks & Henry LLP


Howie, Sacks & Henry LLP (HSH) was formed in 2000 by three lawyers who envisioned a firm that provided exceptional legal services to injury victims in a clear, compassionate, and caring way. To us, HSH represents not just our firm name but also our mission: Hope Starts Here.
When you hear the words "airplane accident," your mind might immediately jump to a worst case scenario: a plane crash.
Canada Transport
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When you hear the words "airplane accident," your mind might immediately jump to a worst case scenario: a plane crash.

But, in personal injury law, an airplane accident has a much more expansive definition.

In this blog post, I explain the meaning of airplane accidents (and aviation accidents), explore which domestic laws and international conventions are applicable, and note why it's always advisable to consult an experienced airplane accident lawyer if you or a loved one has been injured immediately before, during, or immediately after a flight.

Aviation accidents in Canada and abroad

Aviation accidents are defined by federal law and/or the Convention on International Civil Aviation depending on whether the planned flight is domestic or international.

In Canada, the Transportation Safety Board (TSBC) is mandated to advance air safety by, among other things, "conducting independent investigations, including public inquiries when necessary, into selected transportation occurrences, in order to make findings regarding their causes and contributing factors."

A transportation "occurrence" is not necessarily an accident in itself; rather, it's a transportation event that is reportable according to the Canadian Transportation Accident Investigation and Safety Board Act.

The TSBC defines an aviation accident as an occurrence resulting directly from the operation of an aircraft in which, among other possibilities, "a person is killed or sustains a serious injury as a result of being on board the aircraft, coming into direct contact with any part of the aircraft, including parts that have become detached from the aircraft, or being directly exposed to jet blast, rotor down wash or propeller wash."

An aircraft includes "any machine, including a rocket, capable of deriving support in the atmosphere from reactions of the air, other than a machine designed to derive support in the atmosphere from reactions against the earth's surface of air expelled from the machine."

The TSBC "reports fully on the causes and contributing factors of an occurrence," but the Board does not assign fault or determine civil or criminal liability, even in cases where fault or liability might be inferred from the findings. Board findings are not binding on the parties to any legal, disciplinary, or other proceedings.

Canada's Carriage by Air Act implemented several conventions that regulate international air travel. The country is an original signatory of the Convention on International Civil Aviation (the Chicago Convention), which was created by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) – the United Nations agency responsible for the safe and cooperative development of international civil aviation. Since 1945, this agency has been headquartered in Montreal. According to Annex 13 of this Convention, an aviation accident is an aircraft transportation occurrence in which, at any point from the time any person boards an aircraft with the intention of flight until all persons aboard the aircraft have disembarked, a person is seriously or fatally injured, the aircraft sustains structural failure or significant damage or, the aircraft goes missing or becomes completely inaccessible.

What are examples of injury-causing airplane accidents?

In terms of personal injury law, what constitutes an airplane/aviation accident is largely fact specific. However, some examples of airplane accidents that could cause serious or fatal injuries include:

  • A private or commercial aircraft crash causing serious injury or death to people on board or on the ground (including falling debris)
  • A mid-air collision between aircraft causing serious injury or death to people on board or on the ground (including falling debris)
  • A grounded aircraft struck by another aircraft, baggage carrier or other vehicle
  • Burns from extreme heat or fire on or around an aircraft
  • A hard take-off or hard-landing causing extreme movement injuries such as whiplash or injuries from falling objects
  • Severe turbulence causing passengers to be thrown in the air, fall, be struck by objects, or suffer whiplash
  • Oxygen deprivation injuries caused by loss of cabin pressure or carbon monoxide poisoning
  • A person slipping, tripping and/or falling while boarding or disembarking from an aircraft
  • A flight attendant not properly assisting a person with certain mobility needs as they board, move about, or disembark an aircraft
  • Injuries caused by unruly passengers on an aircraft

What are the potential causes of aviation accidents?

While some factors that cause or contribute to an aviation accident are common to all types of aircraft, others tend to affect certain flights more than others. In general, commercial flights are much less likely than private or chartered flights to witness an aviation accident.

Pilot error is the leading cause of aviation crashes (between 70-80% are attributed in whole or in part to pilot error). However, risk of a crash by pilot error decreases significantly as requirements for pilot training/certification increases (commercial air travel versus general air travel) and depending on the aircraft's technology (redundant flight controls, radar, etc.)

Other factors that could cause or contribute to aviation accidents include:

  • Poor weather/flying conditions (fog, snow, hail, freezing rain, high winds, lightning)
  • Defective or damaged products or equipment
  • Improper maintenance
  • Air traffic control errors/communication error with ground control or other aircraft
  • Bird strikes
  • Fuel exhaustion
  • Airline negligence

Who is liable for aviation accident injuries?

If you or a loved one was injured in an aviation accident, you should contact an experienced airplane accident lawyer as soon as possible. Determining whether you have an actionable case and, if so, who is potentially liable for your injuries must be done in a timely manner to protect your right to sue for compensation.

Depending on facts relating to the accident, at-fault parties could include:

  • The owner/operator of private or chartered aircrafts
  • Commercial aircraft carriers
  • Pilots/Flight Instructors
  • Aircraft manufacturers
  • An airport authority and air traffic controllers

Why should you consult the experienced airplane accident lawyers at HSH LLP?

As a high school exchange student, I gained first-hand experience in a serious airplane accident. I was one of 309 passengers and crew members aboard the ill-fated Air France Flight 358. During a hard landing, in which the plane overshot the runway, I was thrown about in my seat. Shortly after the plane came to a stop, I realized that it had caught fire and could potentially explode and kill the people on board. Dubbed the Toronto Miracle, somehow everyone made it out with their lives, though 12 people suffered serious injuries.

Although I hadn't planned to pursue a career in personal injury law at the time of the accident, my experience working with Paul Miller in the subsequent class action lawsuit inspired me.

Navigating aviation accident law can be quite challenging. I knew early in my career as a personal injury lawyer that I wanted to develop a particular focus on this area of law in my practice. That entailed not only building comprehensive knowledge of complex jurisdictional issues and relevant case law, but also developing a well-established network of aviation experts to advise on technical issues that can be critical to these cases. The aviation accident lawyers at Howie, Sacks & Henry LLP (and our frequent co-counsel partners at CFM LLP have earned a strong reputation as leaders in this field.

If you or a loved one has suffered a serious injury in an airplane accident and you want to know how to access the compensation you deserve, contact us for a free, no obligation initial consultation. After listening to your story with great empathy and compassion, we'll answer any questions you may have, explain your rights, and outline your options. If we believe we can help you access compensation and damages, we will gladly offer to become your trusted legal representative and advocate.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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