Air Ambulance Accidents
The accident rate of Air Ambulance operations is simply unacceptable. The NTSB and FAA have studied the rash of helicopter emergency response service accidents since 2004. More than a decade later, on February 20, 2014 the FAA issued new rules to enhance safety of these operations. However, despite these new requirements, the potential for human and mechanical error still exists. Mr. Hedrick of ALG has experience as a co-pilot for air ambulance operations in a Cessna Citation jet. He understands the pressure and decision-making challenges that are part of air ambulance flights, and we at ALG incorporate that knowledge and experience in our practice.
Air Tour/Sightseeing Accidents
Current federal aviation regulations allow tour operators to do what airlines cannot: fly in marginal weather conditions, in the mountains, and close to the ground. Consequently, there are more accidents per passenger flight hour during Air Tours than airline flights. ALG attorneys have handled Air Tour accident cases, including in Alaska. ALG’s Mr. Hedrick has experience as pilot in command flying commercial air tour operations in mountainous and remote national park locations. He has dealt with the challenges of adverse weather, changing terrain, and has first-hand decision making experience determining in-flight changes for safety reasons during these operations. We at ALG use that experience, and add it to the tools that we use to handle cases in our practice.
Aviation Accident: Liability Cases
Aviation accidents can have complex and multiple causes, including human error and product failure. Our experience is that there is almost never one single cause to an accident, but a series of errors and mistakes that come together at the same time with tragic results. ALG attorneys have extensive experience investigating, litigating, and taking to trial complex liability cases. Below are examples of some different types of aircraft accident causes, and our experience in each
Aviation accidents may be caused by negligent aircraft maintenance. Ordinarily aircraft can only be maintained by FAA certified mechanics, and extensive maintenance records for each aircraft should be kept by owner/operators. Even with the use of professional mechanics, negligent maintenance can still occur. Negligent maintenance occurs in many forms, including: failure to properly follow aircraft maintenance manuals, failure to perform Airworthiness Directives (AD), failure to consider Service Airworthiness Information Bulletins (SAIB), failure to comply with manufacturer Service Bulletins (SB), and failure to replace component parts with approved and airworthy parts. ALG has litigated maintenance liability cases. ALG attorney, Mr. Hedrick is an FAA certified airframe and powerplant mechanic, and has a strong working understanding of aircraft maintenance procedures and liability issues. We at ALG incorporate this knowledge into our practice.
Airport liability cases often involve a complex analysis within a patchwork of federal and state law and regulations. We have the experience to handle many types of airport liability accidents, including: airline support negligence, premises liability, lack of emergency response, as well as taxi, takeoff and landing accidents.
Air Traffic Control (ATC) Liability
Air traffic controllers have broad duties. They are primarily responsible to keep aircraft safely separated, and to provide pilots with relevant, timely and accurate information, including updated weather reports. ATC cases are governed by a complex network of federal regulations, and procedures, including compliance with the Air Traffic Control Handbook. As FAA certified pilots, ALG lawyers have a strong understanding of the relationship between ATC and pilots, radar data use and interpretation, and have used that experience to fully litigate ATC related accidents.
In addition, because Air Traffic Control is often handled by the Federal Government, ATC liability cases often include brining claims against the U.S. Government. An attorney seeking to bring these claims needs to have an understanding of the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), 28 U.S.C. Ch. 171, as well as the common defenses used by the Federal Government and its contractors, including use of the Discretionary Function Exemption. We at ALG have experience bringing claims against the U.S. government in federal court.
Air Show/Air Races/Fly-In Event Accidents
Aviation event accidents can involve injury to spectators, as well as to pilots and event staff. Airshows often involve high performance aircraft that are operating near the edge of their performance capabilities, as well as pilots that are seeking to put on a good show for attendees.
Aviation events also have a large number of aircraft operating in a relatively small area, and normally require additional air traffic control. If so, FAA approval is needed for reduced aircraft separation requirements. We at ALG have given presentations to pilots at many of these events, have litigated and taken to trial aviation event accidents, and have participated as pilots at such events.
Aviation Mechanical Failure/Product Liability
Many aviation accidents involve mechanical failures. ALG has handled a large variety of cases involving defective aircraft products. In many cases, National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigators have overlooked important evidence, and our independent investigation has discovered a defective product that caused or contributed to an accident. In numerous cases the NTSB has claimed that an accident was caused by pilot error, yet we proved the accident was in fact caused by defective component parts. We use a team of very experienced experts, and use some of the most advanced testing and investigative equipment in the U.S.
Whether a failure is the result of a design defect, a manufacturing defect, a failure to instruct or warn in aircraft manuals, or other cause, ALG and our team of experts will get to the bottom of it
Claims Against The U.S.
The Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), 28 U.S.C. Ch. 171,, primarily covers claims against the U.S. Government. FTCA cases are often challenging, and can include other government-specific legal issues, such as the Discretionary Function Exemption, the doctrine of Administrative Exhaustion, the Military Claims Act, 10 U.S.C. Ch. 2733, the Foreign Claims Act, 10 U.S.C. Ch. 2734, the Military Personnel and Civilian Employees’ Claims Act, 31 U.S.C Chs. 3701, 3721, the Defense Base Act, 42 U.S.C. Ch. 1651, and the National Guard Claims Act. 32 U.S.C. Ch. 715.
In addition, the U.S. Department of Justice attorneys who typically defend the U.S. in claims arising from aviation accidents are often aggressive in their defense, requiring a tough opposition. ALG attorneys have experience litigating claims against the U.S. and DOJ attorneys.
Aircraft accidents can occur as the result of pilot error. ALG lawyers are all FAA certified pilots who have a thorough knowledge of the regulations and standards with which pilots must comply, including the Federal Aviation Regulations, and the Aeronautical Information Manual. While we have prosecuted many cases of pilot error, we have also represented pilots and their estates, and have taken the position of no pilot error when supported by the facts. We have also spent years defending pilots (and mechanics) in FAA enforcement actions, where the FAA sought to suspend or revoke certificates.
Aviation Accidents On Water
Seaplane accidents, as well as other accidents involving water crashes often involve the application of maritime law, also called admiralty law. Federal statutes may apply to a given case, such as the Death on the High Seas Act (DOHSA), 46 U.S.C. Ch. 303, the Longshore and Harbor Worker’s Compensation Act (LHWCA), 33 U.S.C. Ch 18, the Jones Act, 46 U.S.C. Ch. 30104 and the Limitation of Liability Act, 48 U.S.C. Ch. 305. Any of these acts and statutes may affect the available legal remedies in a seaplane case. Even in cases where federal statutes do not control, general maritime law may govern and affect the outcome of litigation. Issues such as seaplane navigation rules, passenger emergency evacuation, life jacket and life raft requirements, and use of Federal admiralty jurisdiction are issues that require an attorney experienced in both aviation and maritime matters. We have handled many aviation wrongful death and admiralty claims that arose in U.S. territorial waters, foreign territorial waters, and on the high seas, including litigation in Federal court. Mr. Hedrick has an FAA seaplane rating, and has flown numerous types of seaplanes. As a sailboat operator on Puget Sound, Mr. Anderson has a strong working understanding of the admiralty navigation rules.
Aviation Accidents in British Columbia and Other Canadian Provinces
ALG attorneys have handled numerous cases in Canada. These include instances where U.S. citizens have been injured or killed in aviation accidents in Canada as well as situations where Canadian citizens have been injured or killed in the U.S. We have also prosecuted claims in U.S. courts against Canadian companies, and represented Canadian citizens against U.S companies. We have given presentations on cross-border legal issues surrounding aircraft accidents related to both countries.
A thorough understanding of international law, including international treaties such as the Montreal Convention, is required to successfully handle accidents occurring in Canada, or involving Canadian companies or persons. In addition, substantive knowledge of the accident investigation procedures of the Canadian Transportation Safety Board (TSB), as well as the aviation rules and regulations set out by Transport Canada (TC), is required.
When needed, we routinely associate Canadian law firms to assist in Canada related cases; usually at no extra cost to our clients.
Charter/Corporate Aircraft Accidents
In addition to airline and general aviation accidents, ALG handles charter and corporate aircraft accidents, from small single-engine aircraft, to large jet aircraft. We have given presentations on numerous topics related to these private operations, and have experience with charter accident cases. Mr. Hedrick also has experience flying passengers for hire as a charter pilot.
The recent and rapidly growing use of drones for private and commercial purposes has brought with it a whole new field of drone law and liability. Drone operations can involve Governmental Operations (also called “Public Operations” 49 U.S.C. Chs. 40102(a)(1),40125) , Private Operations (also called “Civil Operations” involving a Section 333 Exemption), and Hobby Operations (involving a Section 336 Exemption). Often, these operations involve a Certificate of Waiver or Authorization (COA), and a Special Airworthiness Certificate (SAC), in an Experimental Category or Restricted Category.
We at ALG are on the forefront of drone law and accidents, and we are one of the first firms on the West Coast to represent persons seriously injured by drone operation. In 2014, Mr. Anderson was the chairman of the Pacific Northwest Aviation Law and Insurance Seminar, where he put on a three-day conference for more than 50 lawyers, focusing on legal issues involving drones.
General Aviation/Small Aircraft Accidents
Experimental Aircraft Accidents
Accidents involving experimental category aircraft, including ultralights, helicopters, gyrocopters, and homebuilt aircraft often require a specialized legal approach. Amateur-Built Aircraft have a Special Airworthiness Certificate issued by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) under 14 C.F.R. Part 21. ALG attorney Mr. Anderson has experience flying experimental aircraft, and we at ALG have experience handling accidents involving experimental aircraft from investigation through to jury verdict.
Flight Instruction Accidents
A significant part of general aviation includes pilot flight instruction, including a thorough understanding of the Federal Aviation Regulations, including 14 C.F.R. Part 61. ALG attorney Mr. Hedrick worked as a flight instructor for 3 years, and was also a certified instrument instructor, where he taught pilots how to fly solely by instruments in clouds without reference to the ground. Cockpit coordination and management is important during instruction operations, especially during critical flight stages such as takeoff, landing, and stall practice. Mr. Hedrick has incorporated this experience into the legal practice at ALG, and has used it in handling flight instruction accident cases.
Gliders and sailplanes are aircraft whose flight does not depend principally on an engine. These aircraft can take off from a hill, be launched with a winch, or be towed aloft by a car or airplane. In addition, some gliders and sailplanes are self-powered. The regulations surrounding gliders and sailplanes are different from powered aircraft in many respects. In addition, the flight characteristics, operating environments, and piloting requirements of a glider are different from powered aircraft. Analysis of a glider accident takes into account all of these factors, and includes investigation of the glider, the towing device, pilot training and experience, and the entire operating environment. We at ALG have investigated, litigated, and successfully resolved glider accident claims, including ground and air launch operations. We understand the regulations and practices involved in glider operation. Pairing our knowledge with our team of aviation experts, we aggressively litigate these cases for our clients.
Recreational Aviation Accidents: Skydiving/Hanglider/Hot Air Balloon Operations
Recreational aircraft accidents can include helicopter and airplane sightseeing, heli-skiing, heli-fishing, aerobatic flights, and other activities where the purpose of the flight is more than just transportation. While recreational flying can be fun, it can also be risky as operators seek to provide an exciting and memorable experience for their customers. Sometimes, the added risk in these events is not communicated to passengers, where a simple mistake can result in an accident.
Skydiving and hanglider accidents, as well as accidents involving hot air balloons and ultralight aircraft all fall under distinct regulations. We at ALG have familiarity with these regulations, and the unique legal issues that arise when accidents occur with skydivers, hangliders, hot air balloons, and ultralight aircraft.
In addition, ALG attorney Mr. Hedrick was both a skydiver and a skydive pilot for 3 years in the Midwest during summer months, and has flown skydivers in air shows and at state fairs. He has also taken hangliding lessons. Because of this experience, Mr. Hedrick well understands both the joys and risks involved in these recreational aviation activities.
Helicopter accidents often involve issues of external load operations such as longline or external load (link to external load), heli-lifting, heli-logging, and fire-fighting support.
In addition, helicopters are often used for sightseeing tours, and pure recreation. Our lawyers have experience handling helicopter accidents and the specialized knowledge those cases require.
Air Ambulance Accidents – Discussed above.
Aerial Firefighting Accidents
There is a long history of battling wild fires by air in the U.S. These operations involve heightened risks not normally associated with general aviation. In addition, the U.S. Forest Service and other contractors involved may use older aircraft, and sometimes military surplus helicopters. ALG has handled firefighting related helicopter accidents, including product liability, military surplus, government contract, and claims against the U.S. Government brought pursuant to the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), 28 U.S.C. Ch. 171. Furthermore, there are many nonstandard rules, regulations, practices, and procedures, which can be complex, and which are intricately involved in firefighting operations. We at ALG have substantial experience in these areas.
While there are many environmental and commercial advantages to logging forests using helicopters, the risks involved with heli-logging operations can be significant, especially in light of the challenging terrain, weather, and load factors. ALG has experience in handling heli-logging accidents, and have worked closely with numerous experts in the field, where safety involving helicopters, logging equipment, planning, and qualification of pilots and field crew, is critical.
Heli-skiing and snowboarding offers an amazing mountain recreation experience. However, the use of helicopters in remote snowy mountainous terrain that is often subject to adverse weather is not without risk. Because heli-skiing is popular in both the U.S. and Canada, we monitor Canadian Transportation Safety Board accident reports for trends, risks, and safety recommendations in addition to our U.S. analysis Mr. Hedrick and Mr. Anderson of ALG also understand the risks involved on a personal level. ALG attorney James Anderson is a snowboarder and past mountain climber who also has helicopter mountain rescue experience with King County Search & Rescue. Attorney Hedrick is avid mountain skier, who enjoys out of bounds skiing, and backcountry ventures.
External Load Operational Accidents
Helicopters carrying external loads can be used in a variety of settings, including helicopter logging, mining, construction, fire-fighting, and many other areas. Unfortunately, crashes while operating with external loads do occur. Analyzing an accident involving a helicopter carrying an external load requires a different approach than some other types of aviation accidents. External load operations are governed by a separate section of the Federal Aviation Regulations: 14 C.F.R. Ch. 133. In addition, helicopters operating with external loads have different operating limitations, and flight characteristics.
ALG has experience handling external load accidents from initial investigation through litigation in the courts.
Powerline, Wire Strike, and Obstruction Accidents
Powerlines, guy wires, suspension bridges, cell phone and radio towers,buildings, and other structures can all constitute dangerous hazards to aircraft in flight. When an aircraft strikes an obstruction, the results can be catastrophic, and fatal. An unmarked or improperly marked wire or powerline can be nearly invisible to a pilot, even during daylight hours. At night, or in poor weather conditions, obstructions become even harder to see. In addition, many obstructions are not properly noted on aviation navigation charts. Areas surrounding airports have FAA height restrictions. We have experience handling obstruction cases, including those involving helicopters and improperly and unmarked powerlines. We understand the rules, regulations, and industry standards regarding obstructions to aviation, and proper and safe marking.
Search and Rescue Accidents
Helicopters are often used in Search and Rescue settings due to their incredible versatility. Unfortunately, the environmental conditions that necessitate rescue often also create a hazardous operating environment for helicopter operations. ALG attorney Mr. Anderson is a past member of King County Search & Rescue and has experience in helicopter-involved SAR, including standard operating procedures and safety training.
International Aviation Accidents
International aviation accident law is one of the most complex areas of legal practice. International agreements between different countries may or may not apply to a particular case. Our lawyers have handled numerous international aviation accidents ranging from international airline disasters to foreign seaplane accidents.
Major Airline Accidents
ALG attorneys have represented numerous families who lost loved ones in major airline disasters, such as the January 31, 2000 Alaska Flight 261 accident near Point Hueneme, California, and the February 25, 2009 Turkish Airline Flight TK 1951 accident in Amsterdam. We have extensive experience with international airline liability law, including the Montreal Convention and its predecessor the Warsaw Convention, where issues of liability, jurisdiction, applicable law, and recoverable damages are complex. ALG attorneys have given many talks and written numerous articles in this specialized field of law. Mr. Hedrick also teaches the Montreal Convention as part of his Aviation Accident Law course at Seattle University School of Law.
General Aviation Accidents
ALG has experience handling general aviation accidents that occur in other countries. Depending on the facts, sometimes we are able to file a lawsuit in the U.S. even if an accident occurs in a foreign country. If we cannot obtain legal jurisdiction in the U.S., we have working relationships with many aviation attorneys around the world, to ensure our client’s rights are protected and that we can pursue recovery.
Major/Regional Airline Catastrophes
Major airline disasters require experienced aviation litigation attorneys. Our lawyers have handled major airline disasters arising in the US and in foreign countries. We handle cases from initial investigation through litigation and successful recovery for injured passengers and for families of passengers who died. ALG attorneys were involved in representing numerous deceased passengers and their families in the Alaska Airlines Flight 261 accident, and the Turkish Airlines TK 1951 accident in Amsterdam.
Military accidents and military/civilian accidents require attorneys with a working understanding of Federal law and the role of government contractors including product suppliers. This includes a thorough understanding of the Discretionary Function Exemption, the doctrine of Administrative Exhaustion, the Military Claims Act, 10 U.S.C. Ch. 2733, the Foreign Claims Act, 10 U.S.C. Ch. 2734, the Military Personnel and Civilian Employees’ Claims Act, 31 U.S.C Chs. 3701, 3721, the Defense Base Act, 42 U.S.C. Ch. 1651, and the National Guard Claims Act. 32 U.S.C. Ch. 715.
In addition, military aircraft manufacturers and suppliers often raise the Government Contractor Defense in these cases.
We at ALG have substantial experience litigating against manufacturers of all types of equipment and parts, and have experience opposing the Military Contractor Defense.
Motion Picture/TV Accidents
Motion picture and television commercials often involve aviation components, and sometimes require stunt work. Unfortunately, aircraft accidents sometimes occur while working on motion pictures and television commercials, causing injuries and fatalities to pilots, actors, ground crew, camera operators, and others. Analysis of a motion picture accident involves understanding the roles and responsibilities of pilots, actors, directors, camera operators, producers, and stunt coordinators. This includes responsibilities under Screen Actor’s Guild (SAG) agreements and contracts, the Federal Aviation Regulations (FAR), project bids, and other applicable industry rules.
ALG attorneys have direct experience handling these matters, and understand the complexity of aviation accidents that occur in connection with motion pictures and television commercials.
Wrongful Death Cases
Most of our cases involve aviation accident wrongful death claims. We are very sensitive to the most significant loss of a loved one, and understand the effects on family, both immediate and extended. Wrongful death cases are governed primarily by state law, which varies from state to state. Occasionally federal law will provide a wrongful death remedy, when, for example, the claims are against the U.S. government, or involve admiralty/maritime claims. Foreign countries also have their own wrongful death laws. Which law applies at an accident depends on many factors. We at ALG have extensive experience in choosing the most favorable law and jurisdiction to pursue our clients’ cases. We have handled wrongful death claims throughout the United States and internationally.
As aviation accidents impact families of all sizes, we have extensive experience handling cases involving the loss of a spouse, loss of a child, loss of a parent, and numerous cases where the loss involved an entire immediate family. We work with probate counsel when needed, and have often dealt with claims involving children from different spouses.
High Income Loss
ALG regularly handle cases involving the wrongful death of individuals with high income or high income potential. In these cases, properly calculating the economic losses can be challenging. As part of our evaluation and work-up, we often include calculations of lost past, present and future wages, as well as loss of future earning capacity.
We have handled numerous cases involving the economic losses of entrepreneurs. These cases involve complex business valuations and income stream analysis. We retain and work with top industry experts to develop loss of income calculations, including economists, CPAs, business valuation appraisers, analysts, and other industry experts.
Aviation Web Links
United States Government Sites:
Canadian Government Sites:
Aviation Manufacturer Websites:
Bell Helicopter Textron
The Boeing Company
Cessna Aircraft Company
Honda Aircraft Company
Piper Aircraft, Inc.
Pratt and Whitney Engines
Air Safety Information:
Aircraft Fire Safety
Aircraft Weight and Balance Software
Aviation Litigation Committee, American Bar Association
Aviation Safety Network
Aviation Safety Reporting System
FAA’s Runway Safety Program
Flight Safety Foundation
HAZMAT Safety – DOT’s Office of Hazardous Materials Safety
Maintenance and Ramp Safety Society
National Air Disaster Alliance/Foundation
United Kingdom Air Accidents Investigation Branch
If you or a loved one has been the victim of an aviation-related accident, please reach out to us. We are always willing to provide a free initial evaluation and meeting.
Aviation Law Group, PS City Centre Building 1420 Fifth Avenue, Suite 3300, Seattle, WA 98101
Office Hours: M-F (6am-7pm)
If you or a loved one has been the victim of an aviation-related accident, please reach out to us.