Passenger Liability of Private Aircrafts


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Flying commercial airlines has some drawbacks, such as long lines, cramped seats, and restricted.  Flying privately eliminates the waiting, among other issues. However, there are different safety rules and standards that you need to be aware of and your ability to bring lawsuits or wrongful death suits in the event of a mishap may be affected by the fact that you are flying private instead of commercial.  

Private Aircraft Passenger Briefing Rules

If you have flown on a commercial flight, you have been subjected to the flight attendants’ version of the passenger briefing. They point out where the exits are located, show you how to wear your seatbelt, demonstrate how to wear the oxygen mask should it deploy from the ceiling, and assure you that the seat cushion is also a floatation device.  Most passengers pay little attention to the speech. 

However, if you travel by way of a private flight, the aircraft operator is not required to give you such an extensive overview of the aircraft and any related safety precautions.  They must point out only a few things, such as how to use your seatbelt.  Make sure that you are familiar with the aircraft, at least to the degree that you know how to use your seatbelts and how to exit the plane because this lack of instruction leaves you, the passenger, with a high level of responsibility in the event of a mishap. 

Consequences of Accidents: Fault, and Liability

If an accident does occur, your possible lack of knowledge of the safety features is just one difference between private and commercial flights. All possibilities should be considered in the event of an accident, including pilot error, which can give rise to pilot liability.  Perhaps the pilot overlooked a problem or committed an overt error.  Be aware of the pilot’s activities.  He or she may be held responsible if your aircraft malfunctions or if he or she commits an error and an accident occurs.  Should you need to engage in litigation, you need to be able to explain what you saw or heard that relates to the lawsuit in order to demonstrate that the pilot behaved negligently. 

Suppose there is an accident or an aircraft malfunction, and you are hurt on a private plane?  If you are among the injured passengers, you may be entitled to some compensation based on injury and to cover injury-related expenses.  Worse, if a loved one does not survive the accident, you or your family may need to file wrongful death lawsuits, especially if the aircraft malfunctioned or the pilot was found to be at fault.    

Pilot Liability for Passengers?

If an accident occurs, a pilot flying a private plane may be held personally liable. Most pilots who own and operate their own planes have aviation insurance to cope with this type of situation. A pilot who is flying someone else’s plane may also be liable, however most often the company who owns the plane is sued rather than the pilot himself. An owner of a private aircraft may also be liable even if he is not flying the plane, but only if he knew of a dangerous condition of entrusted the plane to an inexperienced pilot. Finally, the aircraft manufacturer may be liable, but recovery from a plane manufacturer may be limited if the plane is older than 18 years old.

Getting Legal Help

What is your liability with the passenger briefing?  How do you know to what degree the pilot is liable for any injuries or accidents, whether you were the pilot or the passenger?  To answer these questions, you may need to find an aviation attorney.  Contact your local bar association, which can likely provide the names of aviation attorneys in your area.  Find a lawyer that you feel comfortable working with, and one with a track record that demonstrates success in his or her area of expertise.

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