As airplane travel has become increasingly popular, so too have the risks associated with it. Catastrophic airplane accidents are some of the most devastating events in modern history, and unfortunately, they are becoming more common.

From the horrific crash of the Cessna 150L airplane, N10789, to the still-unsolved mystery of the Airbus A321-271N, these accidents have left a mark on the aviation industry that cannot be fully erased. If you or your loved one sustains catastrophic injuries such as severe burns or traumatic brain injuries, you could file a personal injury lawsuit.

Possible compensation upon winning a lawsuit could include loss of consortium, lost wages, and wrongful death. Only with the help of an experienced lawyer can you pursue compensation and achieve a favorable case outcome. At the Foos Gavin Law Firm, we help airplane accident victims in Sacramento file claims, hold the at-fault party liable, and pursue the compensation they deserve. Contact us today for a case review, evidence gathering, and case representation.

Causes of Catastrophic Airplane Accidents in California

Potential causes of catastrophic airplane accidents in California include:

Pilot Error

Pilots are responsible for flying aircraft and making critical emergency decisions. A pilot's decision-making skills and judgment are crucial to ensuring the safety of passengers and crew members. A pilot error could occur when a pilot makes a mistake during takeoff, landing, or flight.

Common factors causing pilot error include the following:

  • Fatigue. Fatigue is caused by prolonged exposure to high stress, long working hours, and disrupted sleep patterns. The pilot can make critical decisions and react quickly in emergencies impaired.
  • Lack of Training. Regular training is essential for maintaining and improving a pilot's skills and knowledge. Pilots who are not adequately trained or have received sufficient training on a specific aircraft type or procedure may be more likely to make errors.
  • Stress. High-stress levels can affect pilots' cognitive and physical abilities, making them more prone to making mistakes. Stress can be caused by tight schedules, bad weather, mechanical issues, and the pressure to meet expectations.
  • Lack of Experience. Pilots who are new to a type of aircraft or flying conditions may not have the necessary skills to deal with unexpected situations. Inexperienced pilots may also be more likely to make errors in judgment, such as misinterpreting instrument readings or mismanaging the aircraft's systems.
  • Distraction. Distractions can lead to lapses in attention and critical mistakes, such as failing to follow standard procedures or missing vital warning signs. Pilots can become distracted by many things, including conversations with air traffic control, navigation equipment, or even crew members.

Mechanical Failure

Another cause of catastrophic airplane accidents is a mechanical failure, which happens when an airplane experiences a sudden defect mid-flight, leading to a loss of control and crashing. Since planes are complex machines with many components, even a minor issue can lead to a catastrophic accident. Common causes of mechanical failure include the following:

  • Manufacturing defects or design flaws. For example, faulty materials or incorrect assembly processes.
  • Improper maintenance. Failing to perform regular inspections, repairs, and replacements can result in mechanical failure. Lack of maintenance can also occur if aircraft engineers are not adequately trained or equipped to diagnose and repair problems.
  • Overuse or age. Airplanes are subject to wear and tear over time. Worn-out parts can result in mechanical failure, particularly if they are not replaced or repaired on time.
  • Exposure to the elements, particularly salt, air, and moisture, can corrode metal components, reducing their strength.
  • Component failure. Engine parts, control surfaces, and electrical systems can fail due to design, manufacturing, or maintenance issues. These failures can have cascading effects, leading to the failure of multiple systems and the aircraft's crash.
  • Environmental factors. Extreme weather conditions, such as turbulence and lightning strikes, can damage or overstress an aircraft, leading to mechanical failure or crash.
  • Malicious acts. Tampering with or damaging aircraft components, intentionally or through neglect, can result in mechanical failure or catastrophic accidents.

Adverse Weather conditions

Bad weather, such as strong winds, turbulence, and thunderstorms, can create dangerous flying conditions, putting passengers and crew at risk. These conditions can make it difficult for pilots to see and navigate, leading to accidents. While pilots use their training and experience to make decisions that ensure the safety of everyone on board, sometimes the weather can be too severe to overcome.

For example, on January 31, 2000, Alaska Airlines Flight 261 crashed into the Pacific Ocean off the coast of California, killing all 88 people on board. The cause of the crash was attributed to mechanical failure, but weather conditions were also reported to have been a factor.

Air Traffic Control Errors

Air traffic controllers are responsible for ensuring that aircraft remain separated and clear of each other while flying in the sky. They communicate with pilots and provide them with information and guidance on their flight path.

Mistakes made by air traffic controllers can cause confusion and delays, which could eventually lead to a catastrophic accident. Sometimes air traffic controllers make mistakes due to communication breakdowns, human error, or a lack of proper training.

For example, in 1977, Pacific Southwest Airlines Flight 182 collided with a private plane over San Diego due to an air traffic controller's error.

Types of Catastrophic Airplane Accidents

There are many different types of catastrophic airplane accidents, each with unique circumstances. The following are some of the most common:

Mid-Air Collisions

These accidents occur when two aircraft collide in flight. Mid-air collisions happen due to failure to see and avoid each other in good time. Accidents can also happen during takeoff or landing when an aircraft hits another on the runway due to a failure in air traffic control or a misunderstanding between the pilots.

For example, if two aircraft are on a collision course and air traffic control does not intervene, they may collide in mid-air, resulting in a catastrophic accident. The pilots may not see each other due to poor visibility or may misinterpret the other aircraft's intentions, leading to a collision.

Bird Strikes

Bird strikes are another type of catastrophic airplane accident that can occur. When an aircraft travels in the birds’ corridor, birds, for example, a large bird such as a goose or a bald eagle, could collide with the aircraft. The collision causes damage to the aircraft's engines or other critical systems, resulting in a catastrophic accident. These accidents damage the plane and sometimes injure or kill passengers or crew members.

Takeoff Accidents

Takeoff accidents can occur for various reasons, such as technical issues with the aircraft or human error. For example, if an aircraft's engines fail during takeoff, it can result in a catastrophic accident. Sometimes, a pilot may make a mistake during takeoff procedures, leading to an accident. Takeoff accidents can also occur due to poor weather conditions, such as strong crosswinds, which make it difficult for the aircraft to become airborne.

Landing Accidents

Landing accidents can occur for various reasons, such as poor weather conditions or pilot error. For example, if a pilot cannot see the runway due to poor visibility, they may land the aircraft too far down the runway or off to the side, resulting in a catastrophic accident.

The landing gear may sometimes fail, causing the aircraft to skid off the runway. Weather conditions can also play a role in landing accidents, as strong winds or heavy rain can make it difficult for the aircraft to land safely.

Mid Air Explosions

Mid-air explosions can occur for various reasons, such as a bomb on board the aircraft or a mechanical failure. For example, if an engine explodes in mid-air, it can cause significant damage to the aircraft, leading to a catastrophic accident. A bomb on board the aircraft may detonate, causing an explosion and the loss of life.

Catastrophic Injuries Associated With Airplane Accidents

There are a variety of catastrophic injuries that can occur as a result of an airplane accident. These injuries can range from burns and spinal cord damage to amputations and brain injuries.

Severe Burns

Burns, common catastrophic injuries, occur when a plane catches fire or when passengers are exposed to the intense heat following a crash. The degree of burns sustained in an airplane accident can range from first-degree to fourth-degree. The severity of the burn is determined by how deeply it penetrates the skin and tissues.

  • First-degree burns. First-degree burns, also known as Class 1 burns, are minor burns. These affect only the outer layer of skin, known as the epidermis. Class 1 burns cause redness, pain, and mild swelling. These burns are usually caused by mild heat exposure, such as a brief touch of a hot surface or overexposure to the sun. Symptoms of first-degree burns include:
    • Mild pain and tenderness.
    • Red, dry skin without blisters.
    • Mild swelling.

First-degree burns usually heal within a week and do not require medical treatment beyond over-the-counter pain relievers and proper wound care. You want to keep the affected area clean and covered and avoid further exposure to heat or sunlight.

  • Second-degree burns - Also known as Class 2 burns, second-degree burns are more severe than first-degree burns. These could affect the outer layer of skin/ epidermis and the underlying layer of skin/ dermis, causing more severe pain, swelling, and blistering. These burns cause more pain, swelling, and blistering than first-degree burns. Hot liquids, flames, or prolonged exposure to heat can cause them.

Symptoms of these burns include the following:

  • Severe pain and tenderness.
  • Red, blistered skin.
  • Swelling and blistering.
  • Possible yellow or white fluid discharge from blisters.

Since second-degree burns are more serious than first-degree burns, unlike class 1 burns, class 2 burns require medical treatment to prevent infection and promote healing. Treatment may include wound care, antibiotics, pain relief medication, and skin grafting.

  • Third-degree burns - These are the most severe types of burns. Class 3 burns penetrate the entire skin thickness, damaging or destroying the underlying tissues, nerves, and blood vessels. The burns can appear white or black and may not cause pain due to nerve damage. Third-degree burns can appear white or black and may not cause pain due to nerve damage. Signs and symptoms of class 3 burns include:
    • No or minimal pain due to nerve damage.
    • White or black, leathery and charred skin.
    • No blisters or fluid discharge.

Third-degree burns are considered a medical emergency and require immediate attention. You must seek treatment in a hospital burn center, which may involve surgical procedures such as skin grafting. Treatment may also include wound care, antibiotics, pain relief medication, and rehabilitation to help restore function to affected areas.

  • Fourth-degree burns - like third-degree burns, fourth-degree burns penetrate through your skin and into deeper tissues such as muscle, bone, and tendons. They can cause permanent tissue damage and may require amputation. Fourth-degree burns can occur in various ways, including:
    • Direct exposure to flames or hot objects in the airplane.
    • Prolonged exposure to high-heat sources such as steam or hot liquids.
    • Electrical burns.
    • Chemical burns from the airplane cargo.


Amputations are severe and traumatic injuries that can result from an airplane accident. They are usually caused by either the limbs being trapped in the wreckage or severed by debris from the plane. The extent of an amputation injury can vary from a partial amputation, where only part of a limb is removed, to a complete amputation, where the entire limb is removed.

Amputations may be necessary to save the life of a passenger who has suffered severe injuries. For example, suppose a limb is severely damaged in an accident and is at risk of infection. In that case, amputation may be the only way to prevent further harm to the individual. In other cases, amputations may occur due to a medical decision made by a doctor to treat a life-threatening injury.

Regardless of the reason, amputations can significantly impact an individual's life. They can lead to physical, emotional, and psychological challenges, including loss of mobility, chronic pain, and depression. Amputees may also require extensive rehabilitation and therapy to learn how to live with their new bodies.

Traumatic Brain Injuries

Traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) are serious and potentially life-threatening injuries that can occur in airplane accidents. TBIs occur when the brain is damaged due to a traumatic event, such as a blow to the head or a sudden jolt. In an airplane crash, TBIs can occur when a passenger's head strikes an object or when the brain is deprived of oxygen for an extended period.

TBIs can result in various symptoms and disabilities, depending on the injury's severity and the damaged brain's location. Mild TBIs, also known as concussions, can result in symptoms such as headaches, dizziness, and confusion. However, more severe TBIs can result in long-term cognitive and physical disabilities, including memory loss, loss of speech, paralysis, and permanent brain damage.

The effects of a TBI can be devastating for the individual and their loved ones. It can impact people's ability to work, care for themselves, and maintain relationships. TBIs can also lead to emotional and psychological difficulties, such as depression, anxiety, and anger.

Airplane accident victims who have suffered a TBI should seek prompt medical attention to minimize the potential long-term effects of the injury. Treatment for TBIs may include rehabilitation, therapy, and medication. With the proper care and support, many individuals with TBIs can recover and return to a meaningful and productive life.

Damages Sought In Airplane accidents Lawsuits

As with any personal injury lawsuit, the damages sought in an airplane accident lawsuit depend on each case's particular facts and circumstances. However, certain types of damages are commonly sought in these cases, including:

Economic Damages

Economic damages refer to a person's financial losses from an airplane accident. These damages can include:

  • Medical expenses.
  • Lost wages.

Non-Economic Damages

Non-economic damages refer to the intangible losses a person has suffered from an airplane accident. These damages can include:

  • Loss of enjoyment of life.
  • Pain and suffering.
  • Loss of consortium.

These are some damages that can be sought in an airplane accident lawsuit. The specific damages available will depend on the individual circumstances of each case.

Determining Fault in an Airplane Accident

Determining who is at fault after a catastrophic airplane accident is challenging because many factors contribute to these accidents. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigates civilian plane crashes by examining the evidence to determine what caused the accident. According to findings, over time, causes of airplane accidents have included engine failure, bird strikes, weather-related events, pilot errors, and mechanical failures.

It may be challenging to determine who is at fault. For example, if an engine fails mid-flight, it may be hard to say whether it was due to a manufacturing defect or poor maintenance. It is usually not the airline's fault if a bird strike takes out an engine. However, if the NTSB finds that the pilot was flying in an area known for bird activity and did not take precautions to avoid them, the pilot may be held responsible.

In other cases, such as when severe weather causes an accident, assigning blame to any party is usually impossible. However, if the NTSB finds that the airline did not properly advise pilots of adverse weather conditions or take steps to avoid them, then the airline may be held liable.

Filling a Lawsuit After a Catastrophic Airplane Accident

Filing a lawsuit after a catastrophic airplane accident can be a complicated and daunting process. There are many different factors to consider, and you should clearly understand the law to ensure that you are fairly compensated for your damages.

You want to consult with an experienced personal injury attorney specializing in airplane accidents. Your attorney will evaluate your case and determine if you have a valid claim. They will work with you to gather the necessary evidence and build a strong case if you have a claim.

If the lawyer determines that you have a case, it is time to file a complaint with the appropriate court. You could bring a claim on your own or with the help of an attorney. Once the complaint is filed, the airline will be served notice and have an opportunity to respond. If the airline does not respond or denies liability, you may need to go to trial to recover damages.

Settlements in Airplane Accidents

A settlement in an airplane accident case is usually the result of a negotiated agreement between the lawyers representing the parties involved. The process can take many months or even years to resolve. Often, the settlement will be for less than what the victim could have received had they taken their case to trial.

Several factors contribute to how much a settlement is worth in an airplane accident case, including:

  • The severity of your injuries. If your loved one died in the accident or suffered catastrophic injuries, you would receive a higher settlement than if you only suffered minor injuries.
  • Negligence by any of the parties involved in the accident. If there were negligence, that would likely increase the value of the settlement.
  • Insurance policies that would cover damages in an accident.
  • Whether assets could be used to pay a settlement. For example, money in a trust fund.
  • If you were at fault for causing the accident. If you were partially at fault, the court could reduce your settlement by their percentage of fault.

Airplane accident settlements are confidential, and neither party can discuss the agreement's details with anyone outside their legal team. The confidentiality agreement is typically part of the settlement agreement itself.

Contact a Sacramento Personal Injury Attorney Near Me

If you or a loved one has been involved in a catastrophic airplane accident in Sacramento, California, consider hiring an experienced personal injury attorney as soon as possible. The faster you act, the better your chances are of receiving the compensation you deserve.

At Foos Gavin Law Firm, our personal injury lawyers have many years of experience handling complex airplane accident cases. We will thoroughly investigate your case and work tirelessly to obtain the justice and compensation you deserve. Contact us today at 916-779-3500 for a free consultation and case review.