Aviation Law: 101

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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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Aviation law is that body of law that deals with accidents arising out of airplane crashes. There are different types of airplanes, and when it comes to legal issues, they’re basically divided into commercial flights versus private flights.

More private than commercial flights

The number of private flights is much greater in mileage per year, believe it or not, than the number of commercial flights, according to Larry Goldhirsch, a New York plaintiffs’ attorney with 38 years of experience whose practice represents aviation accident victims. He explained:

If you add up all the commercial miles that are flown per day, and there are more non-commercial flights flown, you can imagine how many private pilots there are in the United States flying around. Basically, it’s commercial versus private accidents that aviation cases deal with.

Of course, there’s another whole body of aviation law that is called regulatory law, which deals with the rules and regulations by the government that govern flight, such as the rates, the rules of flying, the baggage allotments and things like that. Lawyers involved in aviation accident law don’t deal with the regulatory branch of aviation law.

Warsaw / Montreal Convention

Goldhirsch knows his stuff when it comes to aviation law. In fact, he authored a book on the Warsaw Convention (now called the Montreal Convention), a treaty which regulates international aviation accidents. We asked him to explain what the Convention means:

[It] deals with accidents that occur on an international flight because there are major differences between what we call domestic cases, which are cases that arise out of flights in the United States and cases that arise on international flights.

The difference is that a flight that arises in the United States, or from points within the United States to another point within the United States, such as a flight from California to Hawaii even though it passes it over an international point, the ocean, it would still be governed by domestic law. Whereas an example of international route, which would mean a flight, let’s say, from California to Japan. Even though the plane might crash in Hawaii, the case would be governed by a different set of laws under the Montreal Convention. So, a domestic flight is governed by domestic, American laws and an international flight is governed by a treaty.

Goldhirsch says that his firm, as well as any other firm that handles aviation cases, would handle both the domestic and the international cases. He told us that it’s important to keep in mind that the laws are different, but the procedures to achieve the end result of either trying a case or settling it are the same.

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.

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