Aviation Accident Law: What Must You Prove To Win Your Case?

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jul 16, 2021

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From airplane crashes to injuries from rolling carts, aviation accidents happen every day. However, the burden of proof in an aviation accident case largely depends upon whether domestic or international law applies. As you’ll see, those burdens of proof are very different.

Burden of proof

A burden of proof is what the plaintiff in a case must prove to win her case. In aviation cases, burdens of proof can be categorized by domestic or international flights. We asked Larry Goldhirsch, a New York plaintiffs’ attorney with 38 years of experience whose practice represents aviation accident victims, to explain the differences in the types of aviation cases he handles. He told us:

The type of accident we handle depends on the facts and circumstances. For instance, on an international flight under the Montreal Convention (a treaty which regulates international aviation accidents), the passenger does not have to prove negligence against the airline. If a beverage cart injures someone and that injury is serious enough, such as a fracture or some other injury that is worth any lawyer’s attention, then the case could be litigated and we might take that case. It’s rather interesting that under foreign accidents, you don’t have to prove negligence.

Whereas in a local accident, a domestic accident, you have to prove that the airline was negligent, which means that the insurance company who is representing the airline is more inclined to settle a case without a trial if it involves an international accident.


The differences between the burdens of proof in a domestic versus an international case are also apparent when it comes to damages. Goldhirsch explained:

It’s a no fault system on international flights. However, like no fault that people may be familiar with in car accidents, the damages on international flights are limited to 100,000 SDRs (special drawing rights). It’s not 100,000 dollars. An SDR is a basket of currencies which is measured on an international average. Right now, it’s about $160,000.

So, if you’re injured on an international flight, you can get up to $160,000 of damages without having to prove negligence. Now, if your damages exceeded that amount and you didn’t want to accept that amount in settlement, then you would have to prove negligence against the international airline company. That’s different than in domestic cases in which you would have to prove negligence even for $1,000.

If you’ve been injured in an aviation accident, contact an experienced lawyer whose practice focuses in this area of the law to discuss your situation. Consultations are free, without obligation and are strictly confidential.

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