Aviation Safety

Aviation Safety

When you buy a ticket on a plane, and you board that aircraft, you expect to get to where you’re going. In fact, your ticket is, in effect, a contract with the air carrier.

The airline is under contract to ensure proper aviation safety for the passenger who bought the ticket or for luggage and/or belongings.

When planes crash and people suffer catastrophic or fatal injuries, at minimum, the airline is accountable to the passengers and responsible for compensating them or their heirs, as they did not deliver safe passage. The aircraft manufacturer, such as Boeing or Airbus, can also be liable if the plane had a defect or was poorly designed. A part manufacturer can also be liable for a defective part. Maintenance companies can also be at fault for performing incomplete or faulty maintenance, contributing to the crash.

Ronald L. M. Goldman speaks about aviation safety

All airline disasters result in litigation. The most obvious and expected form of responsibility these defendants can take is in the form of monetary settlement or judgments.

Some air carriers and maintenance companies take it a step further and actually change aviation safety policy to prevent a similar tragedy from occurring again. Yet no airline company, to our knowledge, has ever before publicly and officially apologized for its actions or inaction.

Because of the determination of two missionaries whose daughter was killed in the January 8, 2003 Air Midwest Airlines crash in Charlotte, North Carolina, the airline and the maintenance provider responsible for the crash, publicly apologized to all the families of the passengers and crew of that plane in 2005. They did so as part of the final settlement agreement between the two missionaries and the defendants which was negotiated by attorneys Ronald L. M. Goldman and Michael L. Baum of Baum Hedlund in Los Angeles. This provided another level of justice for all the victims of this tragedy.

Air Midwest and its maintenance provider, Vertex (formerly known as Raytheon Aerospace and now known as L-3 Communications), acknowledged deficiencies, which together with the wording of the aircraft maintenance manuals, contributed to this accident.

In the end, the settlement’s public apology component expanded the services provided by defense counsel and, ultimately, we believe, enhanced the defendants’ public image and provided a very moving experience to all persons present at the apology ceremony. Of inestimable importance, the public apology and expressions of determination to put safety first gave a sense of solace and closure to the families that could not be achieved with money alone.

The missionaries’ lead attorney, Ronald Goldman, stated to the families, after the apology was delivered by Air Midwest’s president Greg Stephens, “Justice means more than just an adequate settlement or verdict, even though the economic part is vital and an important part of the equation. But justice is given a fuller meaning when those responsible for contributing to the cause of a tragedy acknowledge their role, accept accountability and pledge to work harder to root out and correct both the mechanical deficiencies and any culture or attitude that may allow compromises with safety to go unchallenged. Justice is universal and it is timeless and it is a human need. While absolute justice, like perfection, is more of a goal than something that can be achieved absolutely . . . ”

Aviation Product Liability

Aviation Product Liability and Aviation Safety

It is the responsibility of an aircraft maker or aircraft part manufacturer to ensure that the airplane or aircraft part it makes is of adequate design and free of defects that may compromise aviation safety. The manufacturer must take responsibility for any of its defective products or inadequate design if they cause harm to others.

Our law firm has handled many product liability aviation disaster cases. The following example is also one in which we also changed law and improved aviation safety at the same time.

It involved a helicopter made by Bell Helicopter Textron, Inc., which crashed in Los Angeles, California in 1998 when its tail rotor failed in flight as a result of metal fatigue in the tail rotor yoke. Two Los Angeles firefighters and an LAFD apparatus operator were taking part in a rescue operation of a child who had been in a car accident. They were on their way to Children’s Hospital when the helicopter crashed in Griffith Park, killing the child and the three firefighters.

The widows of the three firefighters hired our firm. After we filed their lawsuits, defense attorneys for the helicopter manufacturer, Bell Helicopter Textron, Inc., tried to get our cases dismissed based on a federal law (The General Aviation Revitalization Act of 1994 – GARA) that bars plaintiffs from suing aviation manufacturers for parts more than 18 years old. The trial judge dismissed our cases. We appealed. We won that appeal two years later and proceeded to prepare the cases for trial.

In summary, the 2nd District Court of Appeal in Los Angeles concluded that the law did not apply to Bell in this case. The judge wrote that there was evidence Bell withheld information from the Federal Aviation Administration “about five military aircraft accidents Bell knew were caused by failure of identical tail rotor yokes,” which caused the Griffith Park accident.

We argued that Bell Textron was required to report all parts failures, including those involving military aircraft. When Bell allegedly failed to do so, they were no longer protected by the General Aviation Revitalization Act of 1994.

The Act eliminates the liability to manufacturers when the aircraft has been in use for 18 years or more. The helicopter that crashed was 22 years old. However, there is a fraud exception when information is withheld from the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration).

Bell’s lawyers maintained that they were not required under the law to report military crashes.

After winning the appeal, Paul Hedlund (an aviation attorney for the families) said, “They have been hiding behind this military exemption for as long as I can remember. It was time somebody called them on it.”

Our wrongful-death suit alleged that Bell knew there were aviation safety problems with the tail rotor yoke and that it should have shortened the flight time on commercial aircraft, instead of extending it in 1989 from 4,000 to 5,000 hours. Bell shortened the flight time for the same part in military helicopters to 2,400 hours in 1992 in order to increase aviation safety.

“If they hadn’t lengthened it, all these people would be alive,” Mr. Hedlund said, noting that the crash occurred after the helicopter had logged 4,117 hours of flight time.

The National Transportation Safety Board determined that the crash was caused when a tail rotor separated from the aircraft in flight “due to a fatigue fracture in the yoke.”