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Legal Analysis of Plane Crash at Ft. Lauderdale Executive Airport

Steven Waller, Wally Watson, and Kevin Watson were killed in a Fort Lauderdale, Florida airplane crash that occurred shortly after take off from Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport. The Cessna Piper Cheyenne involved in the crash is a twin-engine propeller aircraft and was piloted by Steven Waller.

Depending on the cause of the plane crash, I suspect that some or all of the families may have justifiable reasons to pursue a wrongful death action.

For example, if a maintenance company did shoddy repair work, thereby causing a mechanical failure that led to the crash, the families of Steven Waller, Wally Watson, and Kevin Watson may be entitled to pursue legal action.

I say this, because the news is reporting something that keeps resonating in my mind – a statement by Steven Waller’s wife that claims Wally Watson asked her husband to take the plane up for a quick flight to test the Cessna’s on-board avionics.

I can’t help but wonder if this Cessna crashed because the avionics malfunctioned.

Clearly, Wally Watson didn’t think there was any malfunction that would cause a crash because he himself got on board that plane with Steven Waller and even brought his son along for the ride too.

I could be wrong, but what if a third party – like a maintenance company – is at fault here?

NTSB Investigations

Whenever a plane crashes, the National Transportation and Safety Board (also known as “NTSB”) immediately launches an investigation to determine the cause of the crash. This investigation will produce a number of very important documents, including an NTSB preliminary report and a final report.

This information is extremely important for an injury attorney representing someone involved in the crash and will have a direct impact on the direction of any legal action that may take place later on. Specifically, this information will address the root cause of the accident, if such a cause can be determined.

For those who do not know, the NTSB falls under the U.S. Department of Transportation (“USDOT”) and it functions as an independent entity tasked with investigating the causes of aviation disasters.

Its purpose is very simple and extremely important – to protect the public by determining what causes plane crashes.

By understanding what causes airplanes to crash, government and private industry are able to make changes in the way aircraft are operated, maintained, and equipped to prevent such crashes in the future.

Insofar as an injury attorney is concerned, the NTSB investigation is extremely important because knowing what caused a plane to crash will tell us who is responsible. Additionally, it will provide an insight into what errors or omissions directly caused the accident.

When it comes to legal remedies, a wrongful death case has two basic components that must be satisfied before any claim can be made:

1) There must be proof that the “responsible” party acted with negligence,

2) This negligence caused the “victim” party to sustain injury (loss of life).

The NTSB investigation will shed light on both of these issues. It will tell us what went wrong and what caused the accident. It may also explicitly state who was responsible, such as a maintenance company, a particular pilot, or some other entity.

How It Applies to This Plane Crash


First, a person must understand an injury attorney’s role in a plane crash case. When a person does something negligent that causes another to sustain injury on an airplane or loss of life, the negligent person can be held accountable for monetary damages in a court of law.

This is where an injury attorney comes in.

If the investigation in this case shows that someone acted with negligence, thereby causing the plane with Steven Waller, Wally Watson, and Kevin Watson to crash, the families of those who were killed may be able to pursue legal action for wrongful death.

Causation

When I review this case based on the information provided in the media, I suspect the plane crashed for one of three reasons:

1) Mechanical failure,
2) Pilot error,
3) A combination of mechanical failure and pilot error.

I rule out weather as a possible cause because the plane crashed on a day when the weather was nice. I also rule out the possibility of a collision with another aircraft or object (like a bird) because such information has not been reported in the media nor has it been suggested as a cause thus far.

One thing that does stand out in my mind is the statement made by Steven Waller’s wife. According to news sources, she claims that the purpose of the flight was to test out avionics.

I wonder if the avionics malfunctioned. I also wonder if the plane was in the process of being upgraded or overhauled. If so, what latent problems did it have?

Could they have been prevented?

Obviously, if the plane crashed due to pilot error, then the families of Wally Watson and Kevin Watson would have a claim against Steven Waller.

HOWEVER, if the plane crashed due to mechanical problem, then Steven Waller’s wife would have a claim against the owner of the aircraft and any other party responsible for the problem, such as a maintenance company.

If the maintenance company is at fault, then Wally Watson may have a claim against them as well, even if he was the owner of the aircraft and nonetheless responsible to Steven and Kevin.

This is why injury attorneys, as much as they are hated, are necessary. In law, even simple things can get really complicated really fast… especially when one is trying to figure out who owes who what and who may be covered under another’s insurance policy and who may not be covered.

Hopefully the owner of the airplane (whoever that is) had adequate liability insurance to cover such losses for everyone involved.

What Comes Next

The most important thing to do at this point in time is preserve evidence. If any of the effected parties know the names of the maintenance companies or other related entities, it would be a good idea to send them notification to preserve all records regarding this aircraft.

To the extent possible, it would be a good idea to collect as much information about this accident as possible. This may include sending a private investigator to take statements from any eye witnesses that can be found. If possible, an inspection of the wreckage by a privately retained engineer/crash investigator would also be extremely helpful. However, given the fact that the Cessna is presently under the control of the NTSB, such access may be limited or impossible to obtain.

At this stage, the legal objective is to determine causation. As important as the NTSB report is, it can take a year and half to two years to be written. In the mean time, litigation in regards to a wrongful death action must move forward to preserve plaintiff’s rights.

Any injury attorney handling such a case must make use of the appropriate experts. My instinct tells me that the plane went down for mechanical reasons. If this proves to be correct, experts in the field will be needed to lay the foundation of any claim made in court.

Most importantly, this is a time for mourning and to recognize that above all else, lives were lost. My condolences go out to the families and loved ones.

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