Who Can Be Responsible for Wrongful Deaths in Aviation Accidents

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Despite a decline in plane crashes in the last 10 years, there are still dozens of plane crashes in Florida every year. Plane crashes are rare, but they are usually catastrophic when they happen.

For every 3 million commercial flights, there is a crash with at least one fatality. One of the most recent plane crashes in Florida occurred in 2019 and is known as the Lake Okeechobee plane crash.

Five people lost their lives when a plane crashed 400 yards from the shore of the lake. The plane took off from Tampa International Airport. It was a twin-engine plane trying to reach Pahokee at the time of the crash.

When a family member is killed in a plane crash, it can be difficult to know what to do next. You may have the right to financial compensation, but many obstacles might stand in your way, from the aircraft company trying to sweep the crash under the rug to coping with your grief and loss. Florida law allows for compensation when a plane crash or mishap is the result of another party's negligent behavior. This falls under personal injury law, and our aviation accident attorney can help you navigate this complex legal process to ensure you obtain maximum compensation for your loss.

If you wonder who can be held liable when a plane crash results in a wrongful death, here are the most common culprits behind these accidents.

Pilot Error

Pilots are required to follow precise guidelines from the Federal Aviation Administration when they fly. One of the most important of these regulations is flight time limitations, which govern how long they are allowed to fly on a daily, quarterly, bi-annual, and annual basis. For example, flight crewmembers must not have more than 8 hours or 10 hours of flight time per day. If a pilot violates these limitations and it results in a plane crash, they could be held liable. Other issues that can lead to aviation accidents caused by pilot error include:

  • failure to complete the preflight checklist
  • flying under the influence of alcohol or drugs
  • failure to make the right decision while piloting the aircraft

Pilot error is a major cause of aviation accidents. It was identified as the main cause of over 75% of general aviation accidents in the U.S. Furthermore, in private or general aviation, loss of aircraft control is the number one cause of crashes. Nevertheless, it should never be assumed that the pilot is solely to blame for a plane crash in which a person lost their life. There are other parties who might also be partly or wholly responsible, such as the airline.


Airlines are businesses, and they are paid according to how many people they can transport. Therefore, airlines may pressure their pilots to violate the flight time limitations, resulting in errors that could cause a plane crash. If this is determined to be the case, the airline may also be held liable for the accident. Airlines may also be responsible if they hire unqualified or underqualified pilots. They have a responsibility to make sure the pilots they hire have appropriate training, qualifications, and licensure to safely transport passengers.

Similarly, if a pilot caused a plane crash because they were under the influence of alcohol or drugs, it may point to poor screening practices on the employer's part. If, for instance, a pilot had a history of substance abuse, but the airline did not review their history, or if the employer simply disregarded the results, then the airline may be held liable for a crash caused by the pilot's intoxication. Consequently, airlines might also be held liable in a wrongful death lawsuit.


Mechanical error is the cause of approximately 20% of plane crashes. Parts manufacturers have a duty to design and produce aircraft components properly. Mechanical failures caused by a defective component may be grounds for a lawsuit. As with any aspect of modern life relying on technology, the failure of components on aircraft can have catastrophic consequences. Failures involving these components and systems can lead to aviation accidents:

  • engine and powerplant failures
  • fuel system failures
  • landing gear failures
  • instrument failures
  • aircraft structure failures

If a defective part or component is the culprit behind the aviation accident, the manufacturer, the seller, and other parties responsible for the defective product can be sued in a wrongful death lawsuit. Commercial airlines, sightseeing tours, and other businesses operate aircraft. If a pilot's negligence or that of another crewmember was involved in the accident, both the employee and the employer may be held liable for the death of a person.

Air Traffic Controllers

Air traffic controllers are relied upon to deliver timely and accurate information that can be critical for ensuring collisions are avoided. When a plane operates, the pilot must have perfect communication with ground control. If ground control gives wrong information, a crash may occur. Air traffic controller errors are defined as "actions or inactions by the air traffic controller that lead to deviations from organizational or air traffic controller intentions or expectations." These errors can occur due to:

  • lapses, such as slips of the tongue and forgetfulness, in which the situation is assessed correctly, the plan is appropriate but is not communicated as intended
  • situation misinterpretation, in which the plan was good, but the result did not match the expectations due to a wrong assumption or perception
  • wrong plan, in which the situation was correctly assessed, but the plan itself was flawed and a good example would be assigning an improper vertical speed
  • blind spot, in which the controller did not see the conflicting traffic in the close vicinity
  • poor situational awareness, where the big picture is incomplete, such as when the controller issues a clearance to solve a conflict and creates a new one at the same time

The Law Offices of Sean M. Cleary Provides Quality Assistance to the Surviving Family Members of Aviation Accidents Victims

In the unfortunate event that you lost a family member in a plane or helicopter crash, our attorney, who has over 20 years of professional experience, can offer you the assistance you need in filing a wrongful death lawsuit. Regardless of how complex your case is, we will strive to obtain the most favorable outcome for you and the other surviving family members. Because we understand how difficult having to face the death of a loved one can be, our law firm will go to great lengths to simplify the legal process so that you can focus on grieving. While money cannot bring your family member back, it can at least alleviate the financial hardship you might be facing.

Disclaimer: Please note that the information provided on this site is not formal legal advice, also the site does not allow you to form an attorney-client relationship.