Texas hot air balloon crash: The legal side

A number of legal questions are being raised surrounding the recent tragedy in Lockhart, Texas, where a hot air balloon carrying 16 passengers crashed, killing everyone on board.

However rare they may seem, hot air balloon crashes do occur, and often times result in serious injury or death. We are more accustomed to hearing about plane crashes, which have an established body of law that determines who can or can’t be held liable for the accident, and what kind of compensation survivors, or their families can receive. Unfortunately, with hot air balloon crashes, this isn’t clear.

What are the responsibilities of the governing body?

Technically hot air balloons are considered aircraft, and are governed by U.S. Federal Aviation Administration regulations. However, balloon operators do not face the same requirements as say, a commercial pilot or helicopter operators. They are not required to maintain a letter of authorization (LOA), which would trigger periodic surveillance checks to ensure that flights are being conducted properly. In 2014, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) brought to light this difference, calling for reform. Changes have yet to be made.

Who might be held liable for a hot air balloon crash?

When a hot air balloon crash occurs, the first thing on the minds of victims and their family members is who is at fault.

Balloon pilots and company operators are likely to be the subject of a lawsuit. Perhaps they decided to continue with the tour despite inclement weather, or the balloon was operating with sub-par equipment. Even if passengers sign a waiver, a suit can still be filed, as was the case in Wisconsin earlier this year when the waiver signed by a passenger was void, as a matter of law, after an injury occured. (Roberts v. Sundog Ballooning).

A number of hot air balloon related injuries occur when the craft comes in contact with power lines; however, it is rare that utility companies or landowners are held liable for those injuries.

Could weather have caused the hot air balloon crash?

During a hot air balloon ride, the pilot can ascend by using burners to send hot air up into the balloon. They can descend by pulling a ripcord, which opens a vent to release hot air from the balloon. Beyond those simple measures, wind largely dictates the flight path and landing site of a hot air balloon. Unlike airplanes, it is never certain where a balloon is going to land. Therefore, an argument can be made that weather, which is considered an act of god, is the cause of a crash.

What can I do if I’ve lost a loved one in a hot air balloon crash?

Our firm encourages individuals to seek attorney counsel as soon as possible after an crash. You are going to need someone on your side at all times to ensure that your rights are being protected. You may be entitled to compensations for the medical bills, pain, suffering caused by the accident. Contact The Carlson Law Firm today for your free initial consultation. We look forward to hearing from you, we care and we can help.

For more information about the recent Texas hot air balloon crash, click here.

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