An aviation attorney handles litigation involved with all aspects of the aviation industry. While primarily concerned with assigning liability after an accident, other responsibilities include regaining losses caused by faulty airplane design, private jet liability, and cargo plane litigation. This particular field of law is a challenging niche to occupy. Not only do lawyers associated with the aviation industry have to attend law school and pass the bar exam like any other attorney, they also need an understanding of aeronautics. Many of these lawyers hold advanced degrees in aeronautical engineering and several are former or current pilots. Adding to the difficulties of litigation of this complicated industry, are the involvement of local, state, and federal regulatory agencies when dealing with accidents, especially large commercial accidents. These agencies, through legal red tape and bureaucratic structure, can severely hinder prosecution of those entities liable.
The primary function of an aviation attorney is to assign liability after an accident. This is oftentimes a contentious and difficult procedure. When a passenger purchases a ticket for a commercial fight, he or she assumes a certain amount of inherent liability. This is most easily interpreted as a “fly at your own risk” stipulation. However, there are a number of circumstances in which the airline company, manufacturer, or pilot could be held liable. These include pilot error or negligence, improper aircraft design, or insufficient maintenance of the aircraft. The airport authority or even the flight tower operator can also be held liable for an accident if the plane was allowed to operate in unsafe conditions or if the plane was put at risk due to scheduling constraints. It is the attorney’s responsibility to sort through these potential issues and assign liability where appropriate.
While the media focuses on the large commercial accidents, attorneys also preside over the much more numerous private and cargo aviation legal situations. Many attorneys argue that this aspect of their legal niche is much more important to average flyer because airline manufacturers, airport authorities, and aviation companies hesitate to accept liability. When dealing with the private flyers insurance companies are quick to blame the potential inexperience of the pilot. However, every pilot has the right to know that the plane in question was manufactured without serious flaws, maintained properly, and that air traffic controller operated confidently and correctly. An aviation attorney provides this sort of analysis.
Cargo aviation offers unique legal challenges when trying to assign liability. Whereas in commercial flights you are dealing hundreds of individuals, when dealing with a cargo flight accidents, attorneys deal with packages and cargo from thousands of different companies and are often dealing with hundreds of different insurance companies. Also, as in private flights, insurance companies are more likely to complain of pilot or crew error thereby eliminating any legal liability. However, aviation attorneys bring to light such issues as improper weight distribution of cargo, maintenance records of the planes, and the age and reliability of cargo planes (cargo planes typically much older than commercial planes). In any situation there a numerous complainants, a multitude of insurance companies, and any number of regulatory bodies which make this particular legal field very challenging.