Main Causes of Helicopter Crashes
Helicopter crashes frequently leave operators and passengers with devastating, potentially lifelong injuries. In many cases, these accidents result from carelessness or preventable errors. While nothing will undo the harm you have already suffered in a helicopter crash, compensation for your injuries could help you rebuild your life.
If a helicopter accident hurt you, you could pursue financial relief from the at-fault party to pay for your medical bills and other crash-related expenses. But determining who is liable for your injuries from a helicopter crash requires knowing about some common reasons these accidents happen.
Keep reading to learn more about the leading causes of helicopter crashes, common injuries resulting from these crashes, and who could be responsible for a helicopter accident that injured you.
What Are the Main Causes of Helicopter Accidents?
Some common causes of helicopter accidents include:
- Pilot error. Flying a helicopter is different than operating a fixed-wing aircraft and requires special training. Helicopters require more hands-on flying than fixed-wing aircraft, meaning there is less margin for error. Furthermore, pilots who fly while tired, intoxicated, or distracted may make errors that can have serious consequences. Common pilot errors that can cause a helicopter crash include losing control of the aircraft and failing to recognize hazardous conditions due to impaired, distracted, and tired flying.
- Manufacturer defects. Manufacturers build and design helicopters carefully to minimize the chance of an accident. If helicopter manufacturers or designers use cheap, flimsy, or untested materials when constructing the aircraft, components may fail under stress or in an emergency. A helicopter’s defective design sometimes makes an accident more likely, even if a manufacturer makes the aircraft with the proper materials.
- Poor maintenance. Maintaining any aircraft requires specialized training. When companies or helicopter owners do not have the necessary training to maintain the vehicle or outsource maintenance to inexperienced technicians, potentially dangerous errors can occur. Proper helicopter maintenance also includes rigorous safety inspections, and crashes can happen when inspectors and quality control personnel do not do a thorough job. A personal injury attorney can investigate a helicopter accident and identify whether any maintenance errors contributed to the accident.
- Component failures. Helicopters without design or manufacturing defects can still crash if critical components fail. Because helicopters rely on many parts working in coordination to fly, one element that fails can cause a cascading series of issues and lead to an accident. For this reason, helicopter owners, operators, and maintenance workers must be meticulous when replacing or installing components. Some helicopter components that commonly fail and cause an accident include seat belts, safety harnesses, rotor systems, and the aircraft’s electrical system.
- Air traffic control errors. Air traffic controllers are crucial to keeping pilots and passengers safe. Unfortunately, air traffic control operators sometimes make mistakes that lead to deadly accidents. Helicopter crashes can happen if air traffic controllers provide incorrect or outdated weather forecasts, get distracted while guiding pilots, give pilots lousy information, or are not adequately trained to use ground-based radar. Other parties who work in or near air traffic control may share liability for an accident, such as helicopter pad owners or operators, airfield owners, or control tower operators.
- Helicopter rotors striking other objects. Helicopters depend on their rotors to stay airborne, and anything that hits a rotor can cause an accident. Stationary objects like trees, radio towers, cell phone towers, buildings, and landscape features can cause rotors to snap and break off. Other objects like power lines and cables can become entangled in the rotors and cause an accident. These accidents often happen at night when visibility is poor, but they can also occur during the day if pilots are not sufficiently careful.
- Fuel exhaustion or starvation. Fuel exhaustion occurs when a helicopter runs out of usable fuel and the engine can no longer power the aircraft. Fuel starvation occurs when a technical problem prevents fuel from reaching the engine. In either case, a helicopter without fuel cannot function properly for long and is likely to crash.
- Bad decisions in inclement weather. While helicopters generally can fly in bad weather, certain conditions can be dangerous. Sudden changes in wind direction can cause a pilot to lose control, lighting strikes can fry a helicopter’s electronic components, and snow or ice can make it difficult for a pilot to land safely. Nevertheless, bad weather is generally not a valid excuse for an accident, as pilots should recognize the potential danger of flying in bad weather and avoid doing so.
- Negligence by the government or contractors. The military and other government agencies use helicopters built and operated differently from commercial helicopters. Pilots often fly these helicopters in dangerous areas that other aircraft would generally avoid. Furthermore, medical and military helicopters sometimes make “doors-off flights” in emergencies, making the aircraft more difficult to control and lead to crashes. Helicopter accident cases involving government aircraft are more challenging for plaintiffs to win because the government will conduct its own investigation, which can lengthen the time it takes to resolve a case.
Common Injuries From Helicopter Accidents
Helicopter accidents frequently cause severe injuries because these aircraft offer little protection for pilots and passengers.
Common injuries from helicopter crashes include:
- Severe burns
- Head injuries
- Traumatic brain injuries
- Scarring and disfigurement
- Whiplash and other neck injuries
- Internal bleeding
- Internal organ injuries
- Broken bones
- Soft-tissue injuries
- Severed, amputated, or crushed limbs
- Back and spinal cord injuries, including paralysis
- Psychological distress
- Wrongful death
What Parties Could Be Liable for a Helicopter Crash?
Depending on the specifics of a crash, multiple parties could be liable for a helicopter accident. In some cases, more than one party shares responsibility for a crash.
The potentially responsible parties in a helicopter accident include:
- The helicopter pilot. Many helicopter accidents involve pilot negligence, recklessness, or error. An intoxicated, distracted, or tired pilot may make a mistake and lose control of the aircraft, leading to a crash. Pilots should also ensure a helicopter is in good working order before a flight. Helicopter pilots can also cause crashes if they lack the necessary training and experience to handle aircraft safely. Pilots must operate the aircraft carefully and be alert for stationary objects or other hazards.
- The pilot’s employer. When commercial helicopters crash, the pilot’s employer often shares responsibility for the accident. Sometimes, these employers encourage pilots to cut corners regarding the safety or engage in unsafe practices, such as flying while tired, which can make crashes more likely.
- The helicopter’s owner. It is up to the individual or company that owns a helicopter to ensure it is properly maintained. Owners who do not use experienced, qualified technicians to maintain the aircraft might be liable for an accident if crashes occur due to improper maintenance.
- The helicopter’s manufacturer. A design or manufacturing defect can cause a helicopter to crash if the flaw affects how the aircraft handles. If this happens, the helicopter’s manufacturer may be liable for the accident, or the company that made the defective part may be responsible.
- The airport owner. Airport owners may be liable for a helicopter accident if their staff, such as air traffic controllers who fail to properly guide aircraft, contribute to the crash. They may also be liable if any issue with the airport facilities leads to an accident.
- Maintenance workers. Proper maintenance is critical to keeping a helicopter in good working order and preventing accidents. Inexperienced maintenance crews or mechanics that fail to fix or replace broken parts might be liable for helicopter accidents caused by poor maintenance.
- Air traffic controllers. Air traffic controllers are responsible for helping helicopters navigate crowded airspace and avoid other aircraft. They also relay weather and additional crucial information to helicopter operators. If an air traffic controller’s mistakes cause an accident, they may be liable for the crash.
- Tour operators. Tour operators often use helicopters to give visitors a bird’s-eye view of an area’s natural beauty. Tour operators could be liable for crashes if they cut corners, such as failing to maintain aircraft or hiring inexperienced pilots.
What to Do After a Helicopter Crash
You can take steps following a helicopter accident to protect your right to seek compensation.
Here is what you need to do after a helicopter crash:
- Seek medical treatment. Even if you suffered seemingly minor injuries in the crash, it’s essential to see a doctor. Some injuries take days or weeks to show symptoms and waiting too long for treatment can lead to complications.
- Make copies of your medical records and receipts. These documents are crucial to substantiating your losses in an accident. Be sure to see a doctor to have your injuries treated and added to your medical record, which is helpful evidence. You should also save any receipts or invoices related to treating your injuries.
- Write down everything you can remember about the crash. Helicopter accident cases can take a long time to resolve, and you need to ensure that your retelling of the crash remains consistent throughout the case. To help keep the details of the accident fresh in your mind, write down what happened as soon as possible after the crash.
- Do not make any social media posts about the accident. Avoid posting about the crash or your injuries on social media until you resolve your case. Insurance companies sometimes monitor crash victims’ social media accounts to look for conflicting information they can use to devalue or deny claims.
- Do not speak to any insurance companies without talking to a lawyer first. Do not give any statements to any insurance companies until you have met with an attorney. The insurance company will want you to accept a quick settlement, and their initial offer is unlikely to cover all your injuries. Instead, tell the insurance companies to speak with your attorney.
- Hire a helicopter accident attorney. Seeking compensation after a helicopter accident requires the help of a lawyer with experience handling these complex cases. A helicopter accident attorney can investigate the crash and get started on a personal injury claim while you heal from your injuries. Hiring an experienced helicopter accident lawyer can increase your chances of pursuing maximum compensation.
Compensation for a Helicopter Accident
The amount you can pursue after a helicopter accident depends on the severity of your injuries, how much your medical treatment costs, and other factors.
The party who is responsible for your injuries could compensate you for the following financial and personal losses:
- Medical expenses related to treating your injuries, including hospital stays, doctor’s visits, physical therapy, medical equipment, and prescription medications
- The cost of transportation to your medical appointments
- Lost wages if you cannot work while healing from your injuries
- Loss of future earning capacity if your injuries result in a permanent disability that prevents you from returning to work or being gainfully employed
- Physical pain and suffering
- Emotional distress
- Loss of quality of life
- Costs to replace damaged personal property
How Long Do I Have to File a Helicopter Accident Lawsuit?
Most states have statutes of limitations on personal injury cases that set deadlines for filing civil lawsuits against responsible parties. Generally, if you miss the statutory deadline, the court will dismiss your case, and you will lose your chance to seek compensation in civil court.
Even if you don’t plan to sue, this deadline is important because the threat of a lawsuit can be your biggest bargaining chip during negotiations with insurance companies. You should meet with a lawyer immediately after a helicopter accident to determine the deadline for filing a lawsuit and get started on your case right away. An attorney can handle your case and keep track of important dates and paperwork.
Being involved in a helicopter accident is a traumatic experience that can have life-changing consequences. If you suffered injuries in a helicopter crash, you could seek compensation for your medical expenses, lost wages, and other crash-related losses. An experienced helicopter accident attorney could identify who caused the crash and help you pursue maximum compensation from all possible sources.