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.
Some examples of SEM images from prior cases are below:
Microscopic analysis of fracture surface
Microscopic analysis of damage caused by a servo slide valve control jamming