There are hundreds of airplane accidents across the U.S. every year. Many,
according to the National Transportation and Safety Board (NTSB), are
caused by improper maintenance or failure to follow clear repair procedures
or service bulletins. When aircraft maintenance operations fail in their
duty to keep an airplane airworthy, they may be guilty of negligence and
be liable for damages to injured victims or the survivors of wrongful
deaths after an accident.
When repair errors lead to aviation accidents, who is ultimately held responsible
for consequences? We look at the role of the regulators and lawmakers.
We also look at the parallels between aircraft and vehicle accidents caused
by faulty maintenance.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has oversight and establishes
repair and maintenance regulations for commercial airliners. Yet some
airlines have placed profits over safety. A growing number of major U.S.
commercial air carriers and private aviation service companies continue
to outsource critical maintenance tasks to third-party service providers
– many of them “offshore” – to lower maintenance
costs. The FAA consistently attempts to oversee the safety of these outsourced
and offshore vendors when aircraft are “cycled back” to the
U.S., but with varying degrees of success. There have been rumblings in
Congress calling for more stringent regulations on this maintenance practice.
General aviation aircraft repair is less regulated and is subject only
to annual inspections. As with repair services on commercial airlines,
general aviation service firms also focus on correcting only what is currently
wrong, often ignoring underlying problems that may develop later.
Obligations of Aircraft Maintenance
Thousands of service and maintenance tasks are assigned to personnel in
both the commercial and general aviation sectors. When cost-cutting measures
or negligent repair services compromise safety, tragic accidents can occur.
Passengers and pilots are right to expect that their aircraft has been
maintained and repaired properly. The company that performs these tasks
owes them this “high legal duty of professional care." A few
of the many aircraft maintenance responsibilities include:
- Full annual inspections
- Airframe maintenance (and refurbishment when required, or when ordered
by the FAA)
- Repair or replacement of obsolete components
- Inspect, calibrate, repair, or replace electronic components, sensors,
- Inspect and repair leaking fuel tanks and hydraulic systems.
There are many maintenance issues that can lead to liability claims if
they cause an accident. Some documented events over the years have involved
the use of incorrect replacement parts in private planes that directly
caused an accident. Others include improper installation of replacement
parts in general aviation aircraft which then fail in-flight.
Different aviation laws govern commercial ("common carrier”)
and general (“private carrier”) aircraft. If negligent maintenance
is the cause of an accident, general aviation law applies a somewhat lower
standard of legal duty than those expected of common carrier (airline
and military) aircraft.
Negligent Supervision of Employees
When an employer does not take steps to ensure its employees obey the policies
of the company or the FAA, a case for negligent supervision may exist.
Sometimes, company supervisors may be responsible not only for their own
wrongful behavior but for the negligent behavior of their employees.
Common examples of negligent supervision over aircraft repair and maintenance
- Failing to provide training and guidance when equipping employees with
dangerous tools or chemicals
- Allowing intoxicated employees to operate machinery
- Inadequate supervision of employees performing vital tasks, later determined
to be the cause of an aircraft accident. This may include fueling errors,
mistakes in routine maintenance, errors in calibration of monitoring sensors
or devices, and improper replacement of faulty or inoperative parts.
Aviation accidents are life-altering tragedies. An experienced aviation
attorney should be immediately retained in order to keep close watch on
what could be a prolonged investigation to determine the cause of the accident.
As one of South Florida's most respected and oldest law firms, Stabinski
& Funt, P.A., has helped many clients to understand their legal rights
and responsibilities and to receive financial compensation for their loss.
We work on a contingency basis, which means that there is no fee or cost
to you if there is no recovery. To learn more about how we can help you
after an aviation accident, contact us for a free consultation by calling
(305) 964-8644, or
fill out a case evaluation form.