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Legal side of Alaska plane accidents is often complicated

The tragic May 13 collision of two floatplanes near Ketchikan caught people’s attention in the Lower 48 and far beyond.

A man from Australia was among the six who died in the accident. So was a Ketchikan native with 14 years of experience primarily flying sightseers in Southeast Alaska.

Outsiders might be surprised to hear Alaska has so many air accidents. From 1990 to 2015, Alaska had 36 percent of all the commuter and air taxi accidents in the United States.

Of course, the statistics make more sense considering the importance of aircraft to the Great State’s overall transportation needs.

Figuring out who is at fault in plane accidents

Perhaps no simple question has more complex and consequential answers. Following an accident causing death or injuries, the fate of people being sued or charged can depend on the evidence and the state, federal, and international laws about fault.

The Law Office of Jason Skala, LLC isn’t representing any of the parties having to do with the May 13 collision. Nothing here pertains specifically to that crash.

Aviation accidents in all 50 states are investigated by the two federal agencies that regulate them. They work to understand what caused an accident. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) establishes safety standards for pilots, manufacturers, and flight operations, and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigates accidents and how future accidents could be prevented.

Kinds of fault and who they belong to

The manufacturer of aircraft or communication or navigation equipment might be held at least partly liable if a defect can be shown to have contributed to an accident. The aircraft’s owners and operators must meet high safety standards. If they are shown to have fallen short of this “duty of care,” they may be held at least partly responsible. Ground employees and/or air traffic controllers can also share fault.

Sometimes, an individual or company that chose the business operating the flight can also be held to have been negligent in making the selection. In some cases, even FAA regulations themselves can be inadequate to the crash circumstances and may share some fault.

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