What Happens When A Loved One Is Killed In A Plane Crash?

The recent tragic crash of the Germanwings airliner has raised an issue most hope to never have to face in real life. What are your options if a spouse or partner is injured or killed in an airplane crash or while flying to a destination? If a crash was involved, does it matter whether it took place in the U.S. or abroad, or whether it was due to pilot error or recklessness? Will you and your family be able to receive compensation for your loved one's lost wages or final expenses, or for your own pain and suffering? Read on to learn more about your options under this specialized area of personal injury and wrongful death law.  

What legal remedies do you have against an airline carrier if your loved one was killed while flying?

Although you may associate aviation personal injury lawsuits with plane crashes, there have been a number of other high-profile lawsuits that instead involved on-board conduct or negligence. In other cases, the wrongful death has not resulted from a crash, but from emergency responders' actions after the crash. If your spouse or partner suffered a preventable death while onboard an aircraft and the airline was negligent or reckless in preventing this death, you may be able to receive financial compensation.

Depending upon the specific circumstances of your loved one's situation, you may have a valid cause of action against the airline company, the air traffic controllers directing flights in the area, the pilot(s), the flight crew, the on-ground safety personnel or baggage handlers, or even other individuals on-board the aircraft. If you choose to sue more than one party, you or a lawyer from a site like http://www.medilaw.com can add them as "collateral claims" to the original lawsuit.

Do you qualify to file a lawsuit?

In order to file a successful wrongful death claim, you must have "standing" to bring the claim. This means that you must legally qualify to speak on your deceased loved one's behalf and potentially receive any financial compensation for his or her death. 

Each state has its own laws governing who is permitted to sue for wrongful death. In most states, this includes a surviving spouse or legal domestic partner, a parent (if the deceased was a minor, not married, or had no dependents) or a minor child. In some states, not even a legal dependent of the decedent could qualify to sue if the dependent was over age 18 (such as a college student). 

What are some factors that can impact the odds of success of a wrongful death aviation claim? 

In order to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the airline or its employees or subsidiaries were responsible for your loved one's death, you'll have to establish three factors. First, you'll need to show that the airline and/or its employees owed your loved one a specific duty of care -- for example, the safe and relatively comfortable transportation of your family member from one point to another. This is usually fairly easy to establish.

Next, you'll need to show that the airline breached this duty of care somehow. For example, if your relative died in a plane crash due to pilot malfeasance, you'll be able to establish that the airline breached its duty by not properly screening its pilots or ignoring certain risk factors. If your relative died while on-board a flight due to inadequate or delayed medical attention, you may be able to establish that the airline should have had better medical safeguards in place.

Finally, you'll need to be able to show that the airline's breach of their duty of care directly resulted in your family member's death. You may also need to provide evidence of the financial hit to your family (such as lost wages, medical or burial expenses, or grief counseling) so that the dollar amount of a judgment or settlement can be pinpointed.

Is a wrongful death settlement or judgment taxable? 

In general, any funds provided or awarded for a loved one's illness or death aren't subject to federal taxes. However, punitive damages -- those not based on any amount you're out of pocket, but assessed to punish the airline -- may be subject to tax, so keep this in mind when allocating your funds.