Since 1957, Krutch Lindell has represented victims of aviation disasters all over the world, building a reputation for excellence in aviation litigation that comes from over 60 continuous years of experience. Attorneys at Krutch Lindell include current Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) certified airplane and helicopter pilots with past experience in National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) aircraft accident investigations.
Krutch Lindell attorneys have represented victims of over 25 major airline disasters, and well over 250 small aircraft and military aircraft crashes, resulting in the recovery of hundreds of millions of dollars for our clients.
There is no category of airplane or helicopter that escapes the experience of Krutch Lindell’s attorneys: cases handled include everything from the largest airliners, to commuter aircraft, small airplanes, helicopters, floatplanes and seaplanes, and military and ex-military aircraft.
The causes of these crashes have included pilot and crewmember mistakes , mechanical and systems malfunctions, wing separation, tail separation, rotor blade separation, structural and fatigue failure, power loss, instrument failure, composite materials failure/delamination, spatial disorientation, autopilot malfunction, jammed or runaway control surfaces, air traffic control errors, mid-air collisions, hydraulic systems failures, severe weather including aircraft icing, downbursts, microbursts, and windshear, defective design, defective manufacture (product liability), negligent maintenance, inadequate weather forecasting, inadequate pre-flight planning, negligent dispatch, poor operational management, unmarked obstructions, and improper airport design.
With offices in Washington, home to the largest aircraft manufacturer in the world, and in Oregon, Krutch Lindell is the premier Pacific Northwest aviation law firm. Krutch Lindell’s long-standing relationships allow the firm to provide the best possible representation to our clients who have suffered a loss in an aviation disaster. Krutch Lindell’s Northwest roots also give the firm a unique perspective on crashes related to the aviation niches of Alaska and the Pacific Northwest, such as those involving float planes, bush planes, aerial wildfire fighting operations, aerial logging, aerial tree trimming, aerial wildlife surveys, and cruise ship charter flights.
Krutch Lindell’s aviation attorneys are based in the Pacific Northwest, but often handle cases in other states on a pro hac vice basis and associate with local attorneys to bring claims on behalf of air disaster victims in Canada, Latin America, and around the world. Krutch Lindell attorneys have extensive legal expertise in the areas of law involved in aircraft accident cases, including the Montreal Convention, Death on the High Seas Act, common carrier liability, Federal Aviation Regulations, EASA regulations, air traffic control rules and procedures, piloting rules and procedures, forum non conveniens, and sovereign immunity. The attorneys at Krutch Lindell also have extensive experience with rules for complex multi-district litigation, and jurisdictional disputes.
The Air Traffic Control (ATC) system in the in the United States is largely controlled by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Therefore, accidents involving errors and omissions on the part of ATC often involve claims against the Federal Government. Attorneys at Krutch Lindell have handled numerous cases involving claims of ATC negligence. For more information on ATC cases, click here:
Air Race, Airshow, Aerobatic Competition, and Fly-In Accidents
Air Races, Airshows, and “Fly-Ins,” accidents all have several common features: they often involve crowds of spectators and many different aircraft often operating in close proximity to each other. Often pilots at these events have varied levels of training and familiarity with the area in which they are flying. In addition, pilots are often flying modified aircraft very “close to the envelope.” Sometimes, the aircraft are “experimental,” in that they have not been issued a standard Type Certificate (TC) by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Krutch Lindell attorneys have extensive experience with these types of cases. For example, Krutch Lindell represented victims of the September 16, 2011, air show disaster at the Reno Air Races, which occurred when a modified P-51 Mustang crashed into the spectator stands, killing eleven people and injuring many others. Information on this case is available here:
Airport liability cases can range from cases where an obstruction (such as a building, tree, or powerline) is too close to the “protected zone” of a runway, to cases where an airport has inadequate firefighting equipment to handle an accident, or where an engine has ingested (“sucked up”) Foreign Object Debris (FOD). Regardless of the “type” of accident , all airport liability cases exist in a mix of regulations. For example, “public” airports have different rules and regulations that apply to them than “private airports.” Likewise, the obstruction clearance around an airport hinges on a multitude of factors, including runway length, airport use, and types of approaches. Attorneys at Krutch Lindell have extensive experience pursuing airport liability cases, including cases where aircraft have crashed into airport structures, and where aircraft engines have been destroyed by FOD.
For over 60 years, Krutch Lindell attorneys have handled aviation accidents all over the world, from as close as Canada, to as far away as Dubai. These include instances where United States citizens have been killed or injured in foreign countries, where foreign citizens have been killed or injured in the United States, and where foreign citizens have been killed or injured in a foreign country.
International aviation accidents involve complex legal analysis, beginning with an analysis of where a case can be filed (jurisdiction), whether a case can be moved from one jurisdiction to another (forum non conveniens), and which law country’s law applies (choice of law). Krutch Lindell attorneys have extensive experience litigating these international aviation law issues. They have authored legal publications in these areas, given presentations discussing current topics relevant to international law, and are routinely consulted by other law firms looking for advice. A more in-depth discussion of jurisdiction, forum non conveniens, and choice of law is here:
“Experimental” or “Amateur-Built” aircraft are subject to different (and less-stringent) regulations and safety standards than their Type-Certificated counterparts. They have not undergone the same certification procedures and often are maintained by an individual without an FAA-issued A&P (Airframe & Powerplant) certificate. Nonetheless, there are thousands of experimental aircraft operating in the United States. Van’s Aircraft, based in Oregon has more than 10,000 flying aircraft built from “kits.” Attorneys at Krutch Lindell have extensive experience investigating and litigating experimental aircraft accidents.
Long-Line and External Load Accidents
Helicopters carrying loads outside of the cabin are said to be carrying an “external load.” Sometimes and external load is as simple as a basket on the skid of a helicopter, other times, helicopters are carrying heavy loads, such as logs, equipment, or even other aircraft on a long-line. External load operations are governed by Section 133 of the Federal aviation Regulations. Litigating helicopter accidents involving external load operations involves an understanding of both regulations, and the technical aspects of helicopter flying. For example, helicopters operating with external loads have different operating characteristics and requirements. Krutch Lindell attorneys have experience on both these fronts. Their lawyers include a FAA-certificated helicopter pilot.
Krutch Lindell is unique in that one of its attorneys is an FAA-certificated helicopter pilot. In general, helicopters are mechanically and aerodynamically more complicated than airplanes. Helicopter flying involves unique hazards, including Vortex Ring State (VRS), Retreating Blade Stall, Ground Resonance, Dynamic Rollover, Mast Bumping, Rotor Stall, and Loss of Tail Rotor Effectiveness (LTE), among other considerations. Helicopter accident cases also often involve crashworthiness issues.
There are special Federal Aviation Regulations which apply to helicopters that are different from airplanes. For example, helicopters are allowed to operate in Visual Flight Rules (VFR) weather conditions that would be illegal for a similarly situated airplane. Helicopters are also often operated close to the ground and are utilized extensively in emergencies. The result is that helicopters have a higher accident rate than fixed-wing aircraft. Attorneys at Krutch Lindell have extensive experience litigating helicopter accident cases, including those involving pilot error, mechanical failure, improper maintenance, and inadequate operational control.
Seaplane and Floatplane Accidents
Krutch Lindell Attorneys have extensive experience litigating domestic and international seaplane and floatplane accidents. The Pacific Northwest is home to some of the largest seaplane operators in the world. Seaplane (or floatplane) accidents on water present additional considerations requiring extensive experience.
Jurisdiction and choice of law come into play in a more obvious fashion when the site of the accident is on water. Maritime law, DOHSA, and the potential applicability of punitive damages should all be carefully analyzed. For further information click here:
Seaplane and floatplane accidents also implicate “crashworthiness” more so than some other aircraft modes. When a crash occurs in the water, especially cold water, a whole new set of variables regarding survivability come into play. This is especially the case when an aircraft is “ditched” into the water. “Ditching”, as it relates to aircraft, is the act of making a forced landing on water in an emergency. There are two main elements which determine the survivability of cold-water aircraft crashes, discussed in more detail here:
Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (Drones)
Until recently, drone operations were the sole province of the military and hobbyists. The FAA reluctantly began regulating drone activity only after substantial public outcry regarding the safety of some hobbyist’s operations.
In 2014, the FAA began regulation by issuing special permits for all operators under a Section 333 exemption. For the most part, that process ended in 2016 and was fully replaced by a new section of the Federal Aviation Regulations in the 2018 FAA Reauthorization Act. Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (aircraft less than 55 pounds) are now regulated under Part 107 of the FARs, while larger aircraft are still handled on an exemption basis under 49 USC § 44807.
Drones continue to increase in size and complexity. They are also often operated closer to people than a helicopter or airplane. Drone accidents will increase in the future as will product liability claims that go along with those accidents. Lost-link scenarios and attendant collisions and airspace incursions will likely be the source of litigation, along with the fact that most drones cannot safely return to earth in the event of a power failure.
Krutch Lindell attorney and pilot Jimmy Anderson has provided expert commentary to media relating to drone accidents: a link to one such video is here: ____.
Attorneys at Krutch Lindell have extensive experience interacting with the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) during aircraft accident investigations. During flight school, attorney Jimmy Anderson interned with the NTSB and assisted in accident investigations on the West Coast of the United States. From the preliminary report, to the factual report and probable cause, attorneys at Krutch Lindell are extremely familiar with the impact of NTSB investigations on aviation litigation. For a more detailed discussion of the NTSB as it relates to civil litigation, click here:
Krutch Lindell attorneys have handled numerous accidents involving military aircraft and aircraft which were formerly in military service, as well as aircraft which are civilian variants of military aircraft. These cases include both modern aircraft, as well as “warbirds” and other designs that are no longer in military service. These cases often raise issues of the government or military contractor defense. Krutch Lindell attorneys have effectively fought against this defense, winning awards for their clients. For a more detailed analysis, click here:
Maritime law is not limited to boats and boating accidents. Often aviation cases involve the application of maritime law, or the Death on the High Seas Act (DOHSA). The airplane or helicopter involved does not need to be a seaplane or float-equipped airplane or helicopter. Krutch Lindell attorneys have extensive experience in cases involving the application of maritime law and DOHSA in aviation settings, having litigated maritime law in everything from major airline disasters, to floatplane crashes in foreign waters. For an in-depth discussion of maritime law and the Death on the High Seas Act, click here:
Controlled Flight Into Terrain (CFIT) Accidents
Controlled Flight Into Terrain (CFIT) encompasses a variety of accidents with a common denominator: the accident occurs when an “airworthy aircraft under [positive] control of the flight crew is flown unintentionally into terrain, obstacles, or water, usually with no prior awareness by the crew. CFIT accidents present a special set of challenges. Usually, the knee jerk reaction is to place all of the blame on the pilot for the accident. While pilot error is often the sole cause of a CFIT accident, it is not always the sole cause. In addition, many accidents that appear to be the result of CFIT on the surface are not CFIT after investigation and evaluation. Attorneys at Krutch Lindell have obtained verdicts at trial against manufacturers in cases where the NTSB had previously found that the pilot was the sole cause of the accident.
Avionics Related Accidents
The instruments and sensors onboard an aircraft are called avionics. Attorneys at Krutch Lindell have extensive experience handling avionics-related accidents. This includes both “legacy avionics” such as older transponders, Automatic Direction Finding (ADF), Very high frequency Omnidirectional Range (VOR), Non-directional beacon (NDB), Instrument Landing System (ILS) and “steam gauges” as well as thoroughly modern Primary Flight Displays (PFD) and Multi-Function Flight Displays (MFD), coupled with Next-Gen Air Traffic Control Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B), Global Positioning System (GPS), Area Navigation (RNAV), auto throttles, autopilots, Flight Management Systems (FMS), modern Flight Directors (FD), Heads-Up Displays (HUD) and Full Authority Digital Engine Control (FADEC).
Attorneys at Krutch Lindell are also familiar with Foreflight and iPad-based software programs. Jimmy Anderson, a pilot and attorney with Krutch Lindell recently wrote an article for the Airplane Owners & Pilots Association (AOPA) on some of the dangers associated with Foreflight usage. A link to that article is here.
VFR into IMC
The operation of aircraft is divided into VFR and IFR flight. VFR stands for “Visual Flight Rules” and encompasses a set of regulations designed around the operation of aircraft in VMC, or “Visual Meteorological Conditions.” Broadly speaking, VMC conditions are where the pilot can adequately see where he or she is flying and are defined by a set of regulations surrounding minimum flight visibility and clearance from clouds (or “minimums”). By contrast, IFR stands for “Instrument Flight Rules” and encompasses a set of regulations designed around operation of aircraft in IMC, or “Instrument Meteorological Conditions.” IMC conditions are those below the minimums for VFR flight.
To operate in IMC, a flight needs an IFR-equipped aircraft, and a “instrument rated” pilot. It also needs to be on an “IFR Flight Plan.” The absence of any one of these elements makes it illegal, and extremely dangerous, for a flight to operate in IMC. The term VFR into IMC comes from cases where an aircraft flying VFR inadvertently (or, very occasionally, intentionally) enters IMC without all three elements listed above. The result is often a loss of spatial orientation on the part of the pilot, and a subsequent CFIT crash.
Maintenance Related Accidents
Krutch Lindell attorneys have extensive experience handling maintenance related accidents. Aircraft have extensive regulations regarding maintenance, contained in a network of Federal Aviation Regulations (FAR), Instructions for Continued Airworthiness (ICA), Maintenance Manuals, Airworthiness Directives (AD), Mandatory Service Bulletins (MSB), Service Bulletins (SB), and Service Information Letters (SIL). In general maintenance is performed by FAA Certified Airframe and Powerplant mechanics (A&P) with certain inspections requiring an A&P with Inspection Authorization (A&P IA). Small aircraft require an annual inspection (called an “Annual”) and, depending on the use, an inspection every 100 hours of operation (the “100-hour”). Larger aircraft undergo progressive inspections under FAA-approved schemes. Krutch Lindell attorneys have litigated maintenance-related accidents of all sizes, up to-and including the maintenance errors on Alaska Airlines Flight 261.
Bush Plane Accidents
“Bush Plane” informally refers to small airplanes that are flown in an out of unimproved landing areas, and operated over rough or remote terrain. Due to the nature of bush plane operations, accidents are more frequent than in other modes of aviation travel. Krutch Lindell attorneys are familiar with remote operations and the dangers that come along with them. Aircraft loading, landing site selection, and mountain flying are three areas in which inexperienced pilots or inadequate aircraft can contribute to accidents in the backcountry. Krutch Lindell attorney Jimmy Anderson is a FAA-certified pilot who flies in the Pacific Northwest in and out of these unimproved areas and all of the attorneys at Krutch Lindell have handled bush plane accidents.
Cruise Ship Shore Excursion Flights and Air Tour Accidents
Attorneys at Krutch Lindell regularly represent victims of aviation accidents related to cruise ship “shore excursions”. These cases often involve unique fact patterns related to weather forecasting and pilot error. Cruise ship cases involve complex legal questions involving maritime law, contract law, federal preemption, and conflicting state laws.
Examples of cruise ship cases Krutch Lindell has handled include a 2015 crash that occurred near Ketchikan, Alaska when a de Havilland Otter float plane operated by Promech Air (which has since been acquired by Taquan Air) crashed into a mountainside. Additionally, Krutch Lindell attorneys represented the family members of victims of a 2001 crash, where a shore excursion tour flight from a cruise in the Caribbean crashed on the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico.
Krutch Lindell has attorneys licensed to practice in Alaska, Washington, and Oregon and its attorneys regularly appear in other states on a pro hac vice basis, so they are able to litigate cruise ship cases regardless of where they occur.
In the United States, our commercial airlines have a strong safety record that has improved over the past decades. This is because we have made great strides in dramatically reducing the potential for commercial airline disasters caused by crew member mistakes by applying lessons learned from prior disasters, training airline pilots on how to avoid them, and requiring airlines and their crew to follow procedures and checks intended to ensure past mistakes are not repeated in future commercial flights. For example, airline disasters caused by mis-configuration of the aircraft prior to take-off have resulted in robust checklists that airline crewmembers must go through and verify step by step prior to taking off. Miscommunications between crew members, or with air traffic control, have resulted in the development of cockpit resource management procedures and training.
Unfortunately, many airplane and helicopter crashes are still caused by mistakes or misjudgments made by pilots and crewmembers. First, the robust system of applying lessons learned from prior crashes in the form of specific pilot training and increased and targeted procedural safeguards is largely limited to major commercial airline and, to a lesser extent, charter operations. Other airplane and helicopter operations outside of commercial airlines are more vulnerable to crashes occurring from crewmember mistakes that have caused prior crashes. Second, human beings are not perfect, and aviation is a complex endeavor that requires full attention, methodical preparation, and good decision making, and sometimes the ability to fly in bad weather (or the good preparation and decision making to avoid it), the ability to communicate and coordinate with Air Traffic Control, and the ability to effectively navigate. Pilots must have an understanding of aircraft systems and mechanics, aerodynamics, and have the ability to read and coordinate various instruments. Some operations have two pilots that can check each other and share the workload, but many operations rely on a single pilot. Like drivers, airplane and helicopter pilots can also be affected by life, such as how rested or stressed they are, or simple misjudgment of circumstances.
All of Krutch Lindell’s aviation attorneys are familiar with the potential for piloting mistakes to result in airplane or helicopter crashes. Their crash investigations always include a thorough evaluation of the pilot and crewmember performance. When circumstances point to pilot and crewmember mistakes as the cause of a crash, Krutch Lindell’s attorneys know how to effectively present the evidence and tell the story of the crash at trial and in a way that can serve to prevent similar mistakes from resulting in future crashes.
There are also times were the cause of the crash is not immediately apparent and there was a public rush to blame the pilot(s) as sort of a default. This can be devastating for family members and loved ones who knew the pilot as highly skilled and extremely safe, cautious, and conscientious. Krutch Lindell’s aviation attorneys have all taken on several such cases with a public rush to blame the pilot where, after extensive investigation, they were able to determine and prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the crash was not caused by pilot error, but rather, matters outside the pilot’s control, such as loss of power, systems failure, instrument/avionics failure, etc.
Airplane and helicopter crashes are often the result of multiple factors coming together in just the wrong way at the wrong time. For example, crashes have occurred as a result of mistakes made by pilots and Air Traffic Controllers that combined to result in an aircraft colliding with another aircraft or with terrain or encountering severe weather.
Crashes can be caused by a combination of design flaw and inadequate maintenance in circumstances where it is determined that an aircraft component or system should have been designed in a way that a maintenance error does not result in catastrophic failure of the of the component/system. Or where a component or system is defective and close to failing, and aircraft maintenance fails to detect the impending catastrophic failure.
Krutch Lindell’s aviation attorneys approach each airplane and helicopter crash comprehensively. They methodically study and evaluate all elements involved and determine and prove exactly what led to the crash occurring and how it could have been avoided.
Many airplane and helicopter crashes result from loss of engine power. When an automobile has a sudden engine problem, the driver can pull to the side of the road and call for help. When an airplane or a helicopter has an in-flight engine failure it is life-and-death level emergency. Engine power is needed to sustain flight for both airplanes and helicopters. When an airplane loses its engine, the pilot can try to glide to a safe landing area, but this can be extremely challenging and often impossible. The airplane might be over rugged terrain, buildings, or water, and there might not be a suitable field or road to make an emergency landing. If a pilot is lucky enough to find a place that might work for landing, can be very difficult doing so under glidepower, where the aircraft is constantly descending and where maneuvers can easily result in loss of too much altitude too quickly, or too much airspeed to quickly and aerodynamic stall. The landing site itself may have its own hidden or obscured challenges, such as obstacles or severe unevenness that can turn a rough emergency landing into a deadly crash. In helicopters, pilots must be able to autorotate helicopter in just the right manner to avoid a crash or severe hard landing, and they too must be lucky enough to have a clear area to land.
Even in airplanes that have two engines, losing power in one of them is an emergency situation that can result in a crash. The loss of power in one engine alters the aerodynamics and performance characteristics of the airplane and it can be extremely challenging to safely land with the one good engine. Many things can go wrong and result in a crash, and they sometimes do.
The aviation attorneys at Krutch Lindell have worked on countless airplane and helicopter cases involving loss of engine power in both turbine and piston engines. They understand the inner workings of turbine and piston engines and the ways in which they can be vulnerable to malfunction and losing power during flight. When engine failure is suspected, Krutch Lindell attorneys work closely with the best experts in the field of aircraft accident investigation and reconstruction to carefully scrutinize engines and their internal components, and determine and prove whether the engine failed and, if so, exactly how and why it did.
Krutch Lindell’s aviation attorneys have substantial experience representing clients in helicopter and airplane crashes resulting from a mechanical or systems defect its structure, components, or systems. When a helicopter or airplane crashes due to a mechanical or systems failure, and that failure is a result of a design flaw or a flaw in how it was manufactured, the failed component or system is said to be dangerously defective and the manufacturer can be held liable. Some mechanical and systems failures are a combination of both design and manufacturing flaws, such as when a component/system design lends itself to dangerous flaws occurring during the manufacturing process.
Krutch Lindell’s aviation attorneys, working closely with top airplane and helicopter experts and engineers, know how to analyze components and system designs and failures, to determine whether design and/or manufacturing flaws are gave rise to the failure – meaning the component/system is defective. They have analyzed reviewed thousands of engineering prints and designs, including structural, mechanical, electronics, and software systems, from both foreign and domestic aircraft and aircraft system manufacturers, and are able to skillfully take depositions of engineers from across the country and around the world, and cross-examine them at trial, regarding their designs and manufacturing processes to prove the existence of dangerous component and systems defects that have caused helicopters and airplanes to crash. In the process of proving components and systems are dangerously defective, Krutch Lindell’s aviation attorneys lay out a roadmap for better and safer product design and/or manufacturer processes that it is hoped manufacturers can and will take to heart to prevent similar future crashes.
Krutch Lindell attorneys have experience analyzing and proving defect in structural systems, control systems, mechanical/moving parts, and in complex avionics displays (or “glass cockpits”).
Laboratory Failure Analysis
Proving the cause of airplane and helicopter crashes often involves detailed laboratory and microscopic analysis to determine that a materials failure occurred, and how and when it occurred. Krutch Lindell attorneys work with top materials experts, metallurgists, and engineers in top-notch failure analysis laboratories to determine the precise cause of a materials failure. This work often involves looking at parts under Scanning Electron Microscope to ascertain a materials failure, or materials damage evidencing that a failure occurred. It also includes analyzing composite materials for delamination or disbondment.