In early September, two people were injured when a private helicopter lost power while trying to land at Burnet Municipal Airport, just north of Austin. While no one in the craft was seriously injured, motorists on US 281 were understandably shocked and alarmed, as the helicopter crash-landed onto the lanes of the highway. While aircraft crashes are thankfully rare, it does beg the question of how foreseeable either might be, and whether it would affect a passenger’s ability to bring suit.
Accidents and Negligence
Whatever conveyance you may be riding in, there are certain obligations that both passengers and drivers must abide by while out on public roads or in public airspace. There is an implied duty of care owed to drivers by other drivers on the road; the breach of that duty can give rise to a negligence claim. This would also apply to aircraft or watercraft; for example, two boats sharing a waterway must exercise due care, lest something go wrong. These duties originate in common law, which means that they are not necessarily in any statute, but rather are passed down via past judicial precedent.
If there is an accident, the question to be asked is whether an accident occurred due to your own error, to someone else’s negligence, or other factors. If you are able to show that you suffered tangible harm and that it was due to the negligent conduct of another person, you may be able to obtain compensation for your injuries. There were no casualties in the Burnet helicopter crash, but there easily could have been. US 281 is a four-lane highway in and around Burnet (two lanes going each way), which means that when the helicopter landed on its side in the right two lanes, there would be nowhere for oncoming traffic to go. It would have been very plausible for an oncoming car to strike the wreckage. However, if an accident had in fact occurred, there would likely have been no liability assigned to the helicopter pilot or his passengers, because of the concept of foreseeability.
The Legal Role of Foreseeability
Causation, in personal injury cases, must be proved in two parts. The actual cause, also called producing cause, is fairly self-explanatory – to prove it, the plaintiff must show that but for the defendant’s action, the accident would not have occurred. Proximate cause, however, is more complex, and more subjective. It is loosely defined as an act from which an injury directly flows; in other words, an action which foreseeably can be shown to be likely to cause injury. For example, the proximate cause of a person’s broken nose might be that someone punched them in the face, but the producing cause might be another person making the assaulter angry enough to punch.
The key word is ‘foreseeably.’ If a plaintiff is injured due to an event that an ordinary person would simply not be able to contemplate in connection with such an injury, or the event is too far removed from the injury, it can be difficult if not impossible to hold the defendant liable. A person is not, under Texas law, liable for the “remote results of their wrongful acts” – thus the cause in fact and proximate cause both must be close enough to the injury to matter. A driver being injured due to a helicopter crashing onto the highway is decidedly unforeseeable for a reasonable person, and as such, a helicopter pilot owes no duty of care to automobile drivers in general. If no duty is owed, none can be breached, and thus the pilot would likely not be liable.
Call Our Air and Auto Accident Lawyers Today
While most accidents are less odd than a helicopter crash on a highway, the fact remains that every accident has the potential to harm. If you have been injured due to someone else’s negligence with their vehicle, contacting the dedicated New Braunfels personal injury attorneys at the Bettersworth Law Firm may be a good next step for you.