If you've suffered a loss due to an aviation or airline accident, it's certain you'll need a lawyer. Accident types vary, and impact people differently. You may be passenger, a passenger's family member or your loss is connected to the accident in a different way. Learn about how to search for an aviation law lawyer, and factors to consider.
While major aviation accidents aren't common, it's not difficult to find aviation law lawyers. The Lawyers.com directory is a good place to start, and can help you come up with a short list of candidates you'd like to consider. Resources on Lawyers.com include background and biographical information, ratings and reviews, as well as contact information. Other sources for your search include:
- Referrals from other lawyers you may have worked with
- Suggestions from friends, family members or associates who may have had a similar need
- State and local bar associations, and organizations specific to an area of law, such as trial attorneys' bar associations or groups
- Internet research. You can find information on an attorney or law firm, including articles they've written, or news items. Law firm web sites can give you a preview of the firm and individual lawyers. State bar association or licensing body web sites are other sources of information to check out
Timing Your Search and Selection
Dealing with an airline accident is very stressful on many levels. The impact is compounded by factors such as the severity of the accident, the suddenness, not to mention the accident site may be thousands of miles from your home. Despite the stress, emotion and vulnerability, know you don't have to rush to make any decisions.
Timing does matter - the statute of limitations sets how long you have to pursue a legal claim. You do have time to recover from the initial shock of your loss or injury, and begin an educated and thorough search for the right attorney.
Unfortunately, there are lawyers who may take advantage of potential plaintiffs. Don't feel rushed or pressured to hire an attorney, or to file a lawsuit right away; it may not be the best strategy for your case. A good attorney won't put you in that position.
Federal and state laws also regulate attorney solicitation involving aviation cases. One federal law, the Aviation Disaster Family Assistance Act of 1996, prohibits unsolicited contact by lawyers until 45 days after an accident. The law applies to employees or agents working for lawyers or law firms. States may have similar laws, with fines and disciplinary action for violations.
Who Is the Plaintiff and Who Hires the Attorney?
The plaintiff in an aviation lawsuit could be a number of people. For example, you may have a cause of action and standing or the right to sue if you're a passenger or the person entitled to sue under your state's wrongful death laws.
Attorney Experience and Qualifications
Aviation law, and lawsuits involving accidents in particular, are complex. Aviation law crosses many sources and types of law, from state, federal and international laws, to area-specific law and regulations. Command of the litigation process is required. Lawyers practicing in this area will have developed a knowledge of aircraft mechanics, construction and operation.
Aviation law lawyers may have experience as pilots or aircraft mechanics or engineers. When interviewing a lawyer, ask if they have an direct related experience. While it's not required, such experience can be an asset if issues in a case include a pilot's actions, defects in the aircraft or maintaining the plane.
Ask about the lawyer's experience, and how long they've handled aviation cases and whether the cases ended in success.
What to Expect from Your Attorney
During your initial consultation with an attorney, ask questions about how your case will be handled and what you can expect in terms of interaction from your attorney and others working with him. Your relationship and your case may last a long time. Expect professionalism and politeness. Find out how communication about your case will be handled, including how often you should expect updates. Good communication is a must, and your attorney should have time to return your calls or e-mail messages promptly.
If you want to hire the attorney and he agrees to take your case, expect a representation or engagement contract. This document should cover the terms of the lawyer's representation and your fee agreement. Contingency fee agreements are common in aviation cases. Like many agreements, the fee agreement between you and your lawyer is negotiable. During your attorney evaluation process, you should review and discuss the proposed terms and conditions of representation.
Address how costs in the case will be handled. Usually clients are responsible for costs related to their cases, such as fees for expert witnesses, witness depositions and the like. The attorney may be able to advance the expenses until resolution of your case. Other issues include whether your approval is needed for certain costs, and how costs will be shared if there are multiple plaintiffs in your case.
Questions for Your Attorney
- Can you provide references and tell me about similar cases you've handled?
- Can you represent me if the accident site, my home and your offices are all in different states? Are you licensed in more than one state?
- Are aviation accident cases filed by plaintiffs as individuals, or are cases combined?