What's the law
Air transportation is a great convenience and a necessity in the modern world. However, when accidents happen, the results are often tragic. The legal process begins after an air disaster, to attempt to compensate the injured victims or the relatives of the deceased. The legal process can also help to prevent future mishaps. Through thorough investigation, often by private attorneys, defects in equipment, training, or procedures can often be identified and corrected. The relative safety of air travel owes much to the tireless investigation of aviation attorneys.
The legal world of aviation litigation is complex. All aircraft and flights are regulated by the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration), which has promulgated an extensive series of regulations known as the FAR’s (Federal Air Regulations). These FAR’s govern aircraft certification, pilot licensing, and the conduct of flights. Knowledge of the FAR’s is a prerequisite to effective representation of air disaster victims. But there are other rules as well. Individual states have laws that govern compensation of victims, procedures for bringing claims, and even the standard of care to be exercised by the aircraft crew. To add to the complexity, there may be competing state laws involved in a single flight, which may well transit several states.
Air carriers such as airlines, commuters, and on-demand air taxis are highly regulated by the FAR’s. In addition, state laws impose the highest standard of care on these operators. In an air disaster, the airline is almost always required to pay compensation, although others, such as the airplane manufacturer or even the federal government (due to negligence in air traffic control) may also be liable. Private aircraft not operated for hire fall under a different standard, known as FAR part 91. These private aircraft are not held to the same standards as airlines, although frequently the owner or operator must respond in damages for mishaps that injure passengers or pilots.
Wilner Hartley & Metcalf is on the forefront of aviation and air crash litigation. The firm has an abiding interest in aviation and maintains its own aircraft. Several members of the firm are active pilots. The firm has represented victims of air crashes in many states and countries. WHM has investigated incidents involving small aircraft; military helicopters, transports, and fighters; and commercial airliners.
Army helicopter crash -- $22 million verdict.
Led by Mr. Wilner, our trial team recently won an unprecedented $22 million verdict for the U.S. Army pilot and passengers of a Sikorsky Blackhawk helicopter crash. Through research and experience, we determined that the helicopter suffered from a hidden defect that affected its balance in flight-and led to its spinning out of control with disastrous results. The lateral balance of the helicopter was fatally impaired by the installation of two long range fuel tanks on a stub wing. When fuel drained asymmetrically, the helicopter became uncontrollable and crashed while attempting to land. Evidence revealed that Sikorsky had found serious controllability problems with asymmetric fuel, but had failed to warn the Army.
The crash, which occurred in Germany, killed four and seriously injured two. The trial was convened in Bridgeport, Connecticut. Sikorsky, the manufacturer, refused to acknowledge our findings, but after a 2-month trial, we received a very favorable verdict. This was a difficult case against a major manufacturer involving a highly technical area, and the verdict is a tribute to the dedication and professional excellence of the team. Wrote one of the surviving family members, "Your clients are very lucky to have you in their corner. You let them know that you believe, and that is everything."