Aviation Accidents: Why Timing and Venue Matter
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UPDATED: Aug 5, 2019
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There are several timing and venue factors that must be considered in aviation accident lawsuits. Statutes of repose, statutes of limitation and how courts view venue choices are three areas that can make or break any aviation lawsuit. In this article, we take a closer look at all three.
What is a statute of repose?
A statute of repose is a period of time after which no case can be brought against somebody, for whatever reason, according to Larry Goldhirsch, a New York plaintiffs’ attorney with 38 years of experience whose practice represents aviation accident victims. He explained:
A statute of repose is in place because sometimes, when a product fails, it doesn’t fail for many years after it is manufactured. For example, if a product was manufactured in 1990, but doesn’t fail until 2008, a person who’s injured by that product could theoretically sue within three years (if that’s the statute of limitations for failed products in that particular state) or 2011.
But 2011 would be 21 years after the product was made – and 21 years is so long a period of time that it may not be fair to require the manufacturer of a product made 21 years ago to defend itself in that product liability case.
How does that affect an aviation case?
Many times airplanes that are involved in accidents are old planes, according to Goldhirsch. He told us, “When I say old, it could be 20 or 30 years old, which is not really old for a plane, but it’s old in the eyes of the law. So a 747 that was manufactured in 1975 might possibly still be flying, yet that plane is 33 years old.
“If a plane like that is involved in an accident, depending on the state or the statute involved, there may be a statute of repose that prohibits anyone from bringing a lawsuit against the manufacturer, which, in that case, would be Boeing.”
Statute of limitations
The age of the plane won’t matter if you don’t file your case on time. Like statutes of repose, statutes of limitation place limits on the amount of time you have to file your case. Goldhirsch provided the following advice to consumers who have been injured in an aviation accident:
I think the most important thing for [consumers] to do is contact somebody who knows the ins and outs of aviation law. Many times, they’ll call their own lawyer and the minute the lawyer hears injury he’ll just say, ‘Oh you have two or three years under the local statute of limitations for negligence’ – and that’s not true necessarily as it differs between a domestic and an international accident.
You definitely only have two years from the date of the accident to bring the lawsuit on an international flight and you may have less than that on a domestic flight, depending on the state in which you determine you would like to bring it or the state in which you reside.
Does the venue, or location, where the airline is incorporated matter? Yes, according to Goldhirsch, who says that where the airline is incorporated or where it is doing business are both options to file a lawsuit – as well as where the accident occurred or where the plaintiff(s) live. He told us, “You really don’t have to file in the place where the accident took place. But many times, a court may not accept a case if the accident scene is too far away from it and there’s no reason for that court to hear such a case.”
He provided the following example:
If a person from New York is flying to Portland, Maine and crashes in Massachusetts, they could file a case in any jurisdiction where that airline does business, which may include Puerto Rico. So, if a passenger from Illinois is injured on the plane, he technically could sue the airline in Puerto Rico. However, that’s an inconvenient place to file that lawsuit.
None of the witnesses are there, none of the investigation is there and the plaintiff is not from that state. So, even though you can get jurisdiction over the airline in a place that it may be subject to jurisdiction, nevertheless, the court may not accept the case by ruling it’s too inconvenient a forum and could transfer or dismiss the case.
Courts generally want the case heard either where the corporation has its principle place of business or is incorporated, where the accident happened, where the plaintiff resides or where the plaintiff received medical care.
Don’t trust your case to just any lawyer. If you’ve been injured in an aviation accident, contact an experienced lawyer whose practice focuses in aviation accident law to discuss your situation. Consultations are free, without obligation and are strictly confidential.