Category Archives: Air travel fatality cases

Drone Injury and Safety Policy Leads To Registration

dkwl @ Full VWCThe Association for Justice (“AAJ”) morning litigation program tends to feature “cutting edge” and merging areas of the law.

When Doug Landau submitted his paper on the law of drones, there was little case law or regulation, despite reports of near misses with helicopters and airplanes at major international airports.

Given the Virginia Motorsports Park drone crash and other injury producing incidents caused by these unmanned, remote-controlled flying machines, Landau noted, “It will be only a matter of time before serious, permanent or fatal injury results from the unsafe, unregulated use of such potentially dangerous technology.”

Landau regularly assists injured airport workers and travelers with their accident and workers compensation claims. He adds, “there are drones flying about or near the major airports, with no oversight or coordination. This makes no sense when folks with remote controlled toy cars and planes must get a license. You do not want a toy or a drone using the same frequencies or flight path as a commercial jet or private plane. Especially as drones become larger and less expensive, the day will come when an errant drone takes down an aircraft.”

As is true for most peer-reviewed publications, Continuing Legal Education programs, and speeches, Lawyer Landau’s drone aircraft presentation was completed in the Fall of 2015, well in advance of the July, 2016 Annual Convention in Los Angeles, California.

Landau was pleased to see that the Federal Aviation Administration (“FAA”) has taken a measured to approach in instituting safety policies for this new technology. These pilotless aircraft have become become smaller, cheaper and more popular. While these flying machines have numerous beneficial applications — mapping remote, inaccessible areas; inspecting cellphone towers; providing mobile traffic monitors; assisting with animal population studies; law enforcement investigation; shooting movies or compiling multidimensional real estate portfolios — they are also a threat to other aircraft.

Policy makers have had to address the potential safety problems. Not unsurprisingly, the Federal Aviation Administration has taken the lead in regulating drones. Last month, it started requiring users to register their unmanned aircraft. It has also proposed rules that would limit drone flights to daylight hours and require commercial users of small drones to keep their aircraft within their sight.

The FAA’s press release quotes U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx as stating, “Make no mistake: unmanned aircraft enthusiast are aviators, and with that title comes a great deal of responsibility. Registration gives us an opportunity to work with these users to operate their unmanned aircraft safely. I’m excited to welcome these new aviators into the culture of safety and responsibility that defines American innovation.” Registration is still free until January 20th, and drone owners may register through a web-based system at www.faa.gov/uas/registration.

The FAA has also proposed rules to limit flights to daylight hours, keeping the aircraft within sight of the operators, and other safety protocols. Landau applauds the Administration’s steps to make the sky safer, and he hopes the rules for commercial and recreational drone use are enforced for the protection of the public and airline personnel.

In the next post, the issue of privacy is also being evaluated by the Federal Government in light of differing rules by the states and Constitutional questions.

How do air traffic controllers and pilots protect against drones flying near airports ? Who is responsible if drones cause injury ?

Who is responsible for a crash between a drone and a private plane or commercial jet?

How do air traffic controllers and pilots protect against drones flying near airports ? Who is responsible if drones cause injury ?
How do air traffic controllers and pilots protect against drones flying near airports ? Who is responsible if drones cause injury ?

Air-traffic controllers have plenty to do safely coordinating arriving and departing aircraft, as well as vehicles on the airport operations area. With the surge in the numbers of these small, unmanned aircraft being used in American air space, their jobs, and those of pilots and other airline personnel, have become exponentially more difficult and dangerous.

As recently reported on the editorial and  front page of the Washington Post, there have been many “near misses” at major US international airports. Herndon Virginia airport injury lawyer Doug Landau notes that while there are international conventions regarding injuries caused during flights, the advent of drones will require updating both American and international laws to keep apace with technology.

Since many drones are small and fly at altitudes under the radar, it is extremely difficult to avoid contact. Eyelets have reported not seeing the unmanned the craft until they are nearly upon these hovering objects. Lawyer Landau adds, “When you factor in the speed and momentum of a commercial aircraft, with the invisibility of a small unmanned craft that does not emit a beacon or warning lights, you have an air crash disaster in the making.”

So what is the solution? Landau advocates that, “Drones should be equipped with the technology so they can be seen, heard and otherwise sensed (and safely avoided) by commercial and private aircraft. If a drone operator is flying unmanned aircraft without this safety technology, they should be fined. If you have to buy a license for a remote control airplane, it seems a small surcharge on drones is not asking too much of hobbyists and professionals. The best protection is prevention.”

Landau adds, “if a jet or small airplane is taken out by unmanned drone, who is going to pay for the harms and losses? The drone operator probably has no insurance for such a loss, and limited assets. The airlines, or aircraft operator, will assert that they are not liable, as they were not negligent, and were not the cause of the crash, injuries, property damage or death.” Clearly, the FAA and related to governmental agencies need to get on top of this issue, before disaster strikes.

Tough Luck if Struck by Luggage Tug, Tractor, Fuel Truck or Other Co-Worker on the AOA

Trucks, tugs, cushman, electric carts & food service vehicles on the Air Operations Area can be involved in accidents with each other, and with ground crew.  The ability of the injured victim to be compensated fully in many cases depends upon who employs the negligent driver.
Trucks, tugs, cushman, electric carts & food service vehicles on the Air Operations Area can be involved in accidents with each other, and with ground crew. The ability of the injured victim to be compensated fully in many cases depends upon who employs the negligent driver.

The Airport Operations Area (“AOA”) at major airports is usually bustling with jets, prop planes, trucks, tugs and electric vehicles.  When collisions between airport vehicles and workers on foot occur on the AOA, a workers compensation claim usually arises if there is an injury and disability from work.  However, the state comp claim does NOT provide for: all of the employee’s wage loss; physical pain; future raises and bonuses; lifetime earnings; loss of consortium; or emotional distress.  In some airport vehicle accident cases, the injured worker can bring not only a comp claim, but also a lawsuit for all of the harms caused by the Defendant driver’s negligence.

However, there is a huge exception, according to airport truck, tug and car crash lawyer Doug Landau.  If the driver of the vehicle that causes the injury to the airline ground worker or airport maintenance vehicle operator works for the same company as the disabled employee, then the claim is prevented by what is known as “the workers compensation bar.” In other words, in cases involving injuries caused by co-workers, the “exclusivity provision of the workers compensation law” applies, preventing lawsuits under Common Law against an employer who has paid for workers compensation coverage.  This means that in cases involving crashes between co-workers, the innocent victim is restricted to her limited workers compensation benefits.

As an example, if “Employee A” works for ABC Airlines and “Employee B” works for XYZ Airlines, and A smashes his luggage tug into B’s food service truck, causing permanent injuries, B could collect her comp benefits AND bring a lawsuit against A and ABC Airlines.  However, if B worked for ABC, then she would be limited to workers comp only, no matter how unsafe A’s driving may have been. Not all cases are so clear cut. Sometimes an unsafe driver who causes an injury on the AOA will claim that they work for the same company as the victim, in order to avoid legal responsibility for all of the losses they have caused.  Investigation be experienced airport injury counsel may reveal that in fact the Defendant and their victim work for different entities, because of the use of subsidiary airlines and alliance carriers. If you or someone you care for has been injured at an airport, please contact us at once.

Airport Safety Violations can Kill Even a “No Fault” Claim

Airport Safety Sign
If an airport grounds crew member sustains hearing loss or is struck by a luggage tag, he will still lose his workers’ compensation claim if he is found to be in violation of a known and enforced safety rule such as wearing ear protection and/or a reflective vest.

While workers’ compensation is considered a “no-fault” system, there are instances where the culpability of the injured worker is examined. In airport injury cases, normally the negligence of the injured worker is often not an issue. Intentionally inflicted injuries are a topic for another day.  A flight attendant or ground crew member can be clumsy yet still be awarded full workers’ compensation benefits for an accidental on the job injury.

However, if an airline ground crew member or airport employee disregards a known AND enforced safety rule, and was injured as a result, he or she is not entitled to any workers’ compensation benefits under the Virginia Workers’ Compensation Act.

This is known as the willful violation of safety rule defense.

Insurance companies will raise this defense in situations where the airport or airline worker failed to use available safety equipment, failed to follow standard operating procedures, left his or her duty station, was intoxicated or under the influence of narcotics or other illegal substances while at work, etc.

According to airport injury lawyer Doug Landau of the Herndon law firm Abrams Landau, Ltd., this defense must be raised well in advance of court. The willful violation defense may not be sprung on the injured worker at the 24th hour. A workers compensation insurance company lawyer cannot raise this potentially lethal defense less than a fortnight before the court date.

If you or someone you know has been injured while working at an airport or for an airline, and there are questions as to what laws apply, email or call Abrams Landau, Ltd. at once (703-796-9555).

Germanwings Airbus Crash in the French Alps Touches Close To Home

The crash of the Germanwing Airbus A320 has many questions unanswered.  Investigators from Lufthansa, the EU and elsewhere are looking for the lfight data recorder and "black box" information to help explain why this jet crashed in the Alps.
The Germanwing Airbus A320 crash leaves many questions unanswered. Investigators from Lufthansa, the EU and elsewhere are looking for the flight data recorder & “black box” to explain why this jet crashed in the Alps.

The Alpine crash of the Germanwings flight from Spain to Germany was a tragedy that is just in its initial investigation stage.  While most of the jet crash victims were from Europe, several Americans suffered fatal injuries. The “black box” was heavily damaged in the impact, but may reveal information about the doomed Airbus jet’s final moments.  Apparently the crew lost radio contact for several minutes before it crashed in the mountains.  The Germanwings Airbus 320 crashed into the southern French Alps and the “black box’s” memory card came loose and remains missing, according to a report in The New York Post.

Germanwing is an arm of the international German airline Lufthansa, and the Airbus A320 has been involved in a dozen fatal crashes since 1988, though its track record in relation to the number of flights remains quite good in terms of flying safety.  The jet in question began flying in 1990, had flown 583,000 hours over 46,700 flights.  Most crashes tend to occur in takeoff and landing situations, not cruising as was the case here.

All 144 passengers and 6 crew members were killed. The flight data recorder, retains 25 hours of information on the position and condition of the key components of the aircraft.  This other vital “black box” has not been retrieved as of this time. It is also unclear whether the jet, which had been grounded the day before for mechanical issues, was still in need of service and safe to fly. According to the Daily Mail, there are

Review of the ground maintenance & repair records of the Germanwing Airbus A320 may reveal why the  aircraft crashed while cruising over the Alps.
Review of the ground maintenance & repair records of the Germanwing Airbus A320 may reveal why the aircraft crashed while cruising over the Alps.

German reports that the aircraft had been grounded just 24 hours before it departed Barcelona for Dusseldorf. These technical issues included a landing gear problem.

According to The Washington Post coverage two of the plane crash victims were American.  Our hearts go out to the Nokesville, Virginia family that lost a wife and daughter in this tragedy.  French investigators opened the “black box” and recovered some audio information from the cockpit voice recorder in order to glean important evidence as to the crash. In a prior post we wrote about the fact that these “black boxes” are not in fact black, but orange, and that they are evaluated nearby in Washington, D.C. While the “black box” technology has provided evidence in other plane crashes, when a jet crashes into the ocean or is not recovered, investigators are without the information to improve safety in the future.  Does not the technology exits to transmit, in real time, information as to a jet’s course, altitude, etc. so that the data can be picked up securely on the ground or by satellite ?  Recent crashes in Asia suggest that the time has come to have a “Plan B” such that destruction or loss of the “black box” would not mean that the evidence of a jet’s final moments are forever lost…

In the next post, we will look at the remedies available to Americans injured in international flights.

Are Dulles Airport Runways Safe?

AOA Feb 2014
A crowded Air Operations Area (AOA) can be a recipe for disaster.

According to an article in the Washington Post, the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) paid a $2 million wrongful death settlement to the parents of 25 year old Southwest Airlines ramp agent Jared Dodson who was killed when the baggage tug he was steering was struck by a mobile lounge on the runway at Dulles International Airport in 2012.

The mobile lounges, 35 ton vehicles that transport passengers from one terminal to another at Dulles airport, are not used at any other airport in the country.

The legal team hired by the Dodsons claim that problems with the instruments on the lounges themselves, poor visibility at Dulles in the dark, and unclear rules governing vehicles used around the terminal make use of the mobile lounges unsafe.  Furthermore, they blame these conditions for their son’s death.

The airport’s manager, however, said that lounges always have the right of way, and cited data showing that Dodson is the only fatality in 10 years of more than 4.5 million trips by the lounges at Dulles.

According to Washington area airport injury lawyer Doug Landau, accidents on the Air Operations Area (AOA) occur as a result of jet crew just making unsafe maneuvers, vehicle operators on the tarmac acting negligently, or a combination of vehicle operators, ground personnel, and aircraft operators failing to follow safety protocols.

“The death of Dodson is a tragic example of what can happen in a crowded AOA.  Hopefully the investigation into this accident will cause MWAA to take a harder look at its safety standards at both Dulles International and Reagan International airports,” notes Landau.

If you or someone you know has been injured while working at an airport and there are questions as to what laws apply, email or call Abrams Landau, Ltd. at once (703-796-9555).

Gaithersburg Airplane Crash

airplane
Small, private airports like the Montgomery County Airpark near Gaithersburg, Maryland provide convenience to travelers for whom the DC area commercial airports are not an option.

The unthinkable has happened again.  A small plane has crashed into a home situated near an airport.

However, unlike an incident in Chicago a few weeks ago, in which the pilot was killed but the elderly residents of the home he struck escaped injury, the December 8 crash of a plane into three homes near Montgomery County Airpark in Gaithersburg, Maryland resulted in the death of six people — the pilot and two passengers aboard the plane, plus three residents of one of the homes struck.

The plane’s black box (which is actually orange) was recovered and is being studied in the crash’s investigation. Early reports from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) indicate an aerodynamic stall occurred, meaning a disruption in airflow over the wings which prevents the wings from supporting the aircraft.  All four corners of the craft have been recovered, providing evidence the plane was fully intact when it struck the homes.  The plane will be painstakingly reassembled so as to try to discover exactly what caused this tragic crash.

Herndon airport injury lawyer Doug Landau has flown privately out of the Gaithersburg area airport several times, in order to try cases for clients throughout the East Coast.  The Maryland County Airpark, which is the home base for crafts flown in and out of other local airports including Leesburg/Loudoun County and Manassas/Prince William County airports, is a small, yet conveniently located airport near our nation’s capital.  Lawyer Landau has flown planes hangared in Gaithersburg to North Carolina, West Virginia, Tennessee, New York, South Carolina, New Jersey and the SouthWestern corners of the Commonwealth. Flying to remote court houses with your own pilot and aircraft means you NEVER miss your return flight !

In addition to the military airports in the vicinity of our Nation’s Capitol, there are a number of small, private airports in the Washington DC metropolitan area. As Gaithersburg is right around the Capital Beltway from the Herndon office of the Abrams Landau law firm, this accident feels close to home. Our hearts go out to the families of those killed in this unfortunate aircraft disaster.

If you or someone you know has been injured in an accident at or near an airport, and there are questions as to what laws apply, email or call the experienced airport injury law firm of Abrams Landau, Ltd. at once (703-796-9555).

 

Lawsuit Over Plane Crash

radar tower at airport
The last communication from a small plane which crashed into an elderly couple’s home near a major US airport was a radio call in which the pilot indicated trouble with one of the engines.

An elderly couple in Chicago escaped with their lives and suffered no physical injuries when a small cargo plane crashed into their home on November 18.  The plane missed hitting the couple, ages 84 and 82, by just inches.  But what a frightening scene that must have been!

They have filed a lawsuit against Central Airlines, the Kansas-based airline company that owned the plane.  The couple’s lawyer issued a statement saying, “The emotional trauma has been devastating to them.  Hearing, seeing and feeling an airplane crashing just inches away from them has caused severe emotional distress.”

According to an article published by CBS Chicago, the suit claims the airline was “negligent in failing to execute a proper take-off and landing; maintaining a sufficient altitude; adequately monitoring the altitude and airspeed; and maintaining, inspecting and controlling the plane.”

The facts of the crash as known today are this:  The 47 year old pilot had just taken off from Midway airport when he contacted the control tower by radio to report having trouble with the left engine.  He was cleared to return to the airport but then dropped off the radar about a half mile from the runway.  Shortly thereafter, the plane struck the couple’s home.  The pilot was killed.

A careful investigation will surely follow of the plane itself, the craft’s maintenance records, radar reports, voice recordings, etc. to determine who is to blame for this accident.

Virginia airport and airline crash attorney Doug Landau and his team at the Abrams Landau, Ltd. law firm will be watching this case.  Lawyer Landau was just contacted about a house that was wrecked in a crash here in Virginia.  Apparently a drunk driver lost control and struck the house so hard it knocked the dwelling off of its foundation !

For more information about airline accidents or airport incidents, contact Abrams Landau by email or phone (703-796-9555).

 

 

 

Are Airplanes and Aircraft Required to Have Insurance in Virginia?

small airplane
All aircraft, including small ones like this, must be covered by an aircraft insurance policy. Notably, hang gliders are excluded from the requirement.

Prior to 1979 there were no liability insurance requirements on light airplanes under the Virginia Code.  In addition, the Virginia federal courts ruled that the Federal Aviation Act provided no basis to impose vicarious liability on the owner of an aircraft for the negligence of someone who was a bailee.

*vicarious liability assigns liability for an injury to someone who did not cause the injury, but who has a certain legal relationship (eg., parent/child, employer/employee, etc.) to the person who did act negligently.

* a bailee is someone to whom an article is left and who is responsible for the safe return of said article.

“Fortunately, the current state of the law provides protection for those who may be injured or otherwise damaged by the operation of a small aircraft,” according to Washington Dulles area aircraft injury lawyer Doug Landau.

Current Virginia law requires proof of financial responsibility.  (See Virginia Code sections 5.1-88.1 and §5.1-88.2, Ex-300).  This is a prerequisite to licensure of aircraft, which translates into limits of $50,000/$100,000/$25,000; or a single limit policy providing $250,000 coverage, including passenger liability of $50,000 per passenger seat.

Aircraft defined as “ultra light” by the Federal Aviation Administration may be insured by a $100,000 single limit policy. 
”Aircraft” is defined by Virginia Code section 5.1-1, Ex-298, to exclude hang gliders.

An aircraft insurance policy may include “Medical Expense Coverage,” which provides limited payment for medical bills, usually incurred within a year of a crash or other accident, and which is regardless of fault or negligence. (See Virginia Code section 38.2-125, Ex-301).

Generally, an aircraft liability policy issued for delivery in Virginia may not exclude coverage on grounds that the aircraft is operated in violation of federal, civil, state, or local regulations, subject to certain specified exceptions. See Virginia Code section 38.2- 2227, Ex-301.

If you or someone you know have been involved in an airplane or aircraft incident and there are questions as to what laws apply, and what insurance was required on the part of the aircraft owner, email or call Abrams Landau, Ltd. at once (703-796-9555).

Ebola Workers’ Comp Claims for Airport and Airline Employees

Ebola Virus Disease injury claims for airport and airline workers require experienced legal counsel
An airport or airline worker disabled due to the Ebola Virus Disease may have a workers compensation claim

Airline employees and airport workers are concerned about contracting the potentially fatal Ebola Virus Disease on the job.  Just as with nurses and hospital orderlies during the height of the AIDS epidemic, airport personnel are concerned about their legal rights in light of the deadly Ebola outbreak.

Workers at Washington DC area international airports are rightly concerned.

The Ebola disease has shown to be fatal, and management is difficult.  Authorities have not been able to contain Ebola in the countries where it was initially diagnosed, and effective protocols are still being developed.

So what does the law say?

Under the Workers’ Compensation Act, not all diseases are considered “compensable”. There are some occupational diseases that clearly can come only from the workplace.

The statute specifically enumerates those occupational diseases that are covered under the law, including such things as black lung, silicosis, asbestosis, etc.

However, other diseases like berylliosis, carpal tunnel syndrome, cubital tunnel syndrome, rhinitis, and occupational asthma may not be covered.  In fact, there is case law indicating that these permanently disabling conditions are not seen as compensable by the workers’ compensation judges who are charged with interpreting the laws and making awards of benefits.

In the case of health care workers infected by the HIV virus, where they were able to show a specific identifiable event, such as a needle stick, or blood spilling on them, and relate their workplace need for medical attention to that particular action, a winnable case could be maintained. In most cases a needle stick from a patient with the HIV virus or a cut through a rubber glove from a “sharp” (i.e., scalpel blade or other surgical tool) often resulted in prophylactic treatment, but not long-term disability from work.

According to experienced workers comp lawyer Doug Landau, “the difficulty in these types of disease claims is that the employee has the burden of proof. That is to say the injured worker must show that his or her only exposure to the harmful disease was at work, and was not from any exposure outside of the workplace. Insurance defense lawyers go to great lengths in their pretrial discovery and interrogation at depositions to elicit any and all possible exposures outside of the employer’s premises.”

The Dulles and National Airport area lawyer Landau goes on to relate that, “In the context of the Ebola epidemic, if insurance defense counsel shows that the disabled worker traveled outside of the country, visited an airport, or knows anyone who knows anyone with Ebola, the insurance company may be able to escape any responsibility whatsoever for the expensive medical care, time lost from work, medications, and other expenses attendant to combating this scourge.”

Herndon Virginia Lawyer Landau adds, “On the employee’s side, short of becoming a hermit, it is virtually impossible to eliminate all possible contact!  Proving a silicosis claim for a silica worker, asbestosis claim for someone who works in shipyard asbestos insulation installation, and pneumoconiosis for a miner working in a coal mine are much easier in terms of proof.”

However, a healthcare worker with Ebola must immediately assemble proof of exposure; evidence that there could be no exposure outside of the workplace; and, bring his or her condition to the attention of authorities as well as the Workers’ Compensation Commission.

In the opinion of Herndon workplace injury lawyer Doug Landau, of the Herndon law firm ABRAMS LANDAU, the law needs to keep pace with evolving health issues, and make a presumption in favor of healthcare workers, nurses, doctors, and those ambulance drivers and the other first responders and emergency personnel who come into contact with many potentially infected people each year, and for whom proof of a specific exposure event would be very difficult.

If you or someone you know has contracted a disease by virtue of your employment at an airport or in your role as a first responder and there are questions as to what laws apply, email or call the workplace injury law firm Abrams Landau, Ltd. at once (703-796-9555).