Catastrophic Injuries

Floatplane Accident In Alaska: LM&W, P.A. Provides Expert Insight Into Liability

Jason R. Margulies

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Jason R. Margulies is a board-certified admiralty and maritime lawyer, as well as a co-managing partner of Lipcon, Margulies & Winkleman, P.A. After serving as a law clerk for the firm starting in 1992, Mr. Margulies joined the firm as an attorney. As a board certified and experienced trial lawyer, Jason handles personal injury and wrongful death claims. He has also handled hundreds of cruise ship rape and sexual assault cases.


A tragic event occurred in southeast Alaska when five passengers and the pilot of a sightseeing plane all died when a plane crashed in Ketchikan. The Coast Guard discovered the wreckage of the plane, and so far, none of the passengers or the pilot have been identified. Although LM&W are experts in maritime law, our firm has also handled several major aviation crash cases.. Also, the subject plane crash was an excursion taken by cruise ship passengers; and shore excursion incidents are something that our firm handles daily.  In fact, at one time the law regarding these types of incidents resulting in death on the high seas (on ships) or over the high seas (on planes) shared the same law which limited damages available to the families of the deceased.  However,  after the year 2000, the application of the Death on the High Seas Act was changed to exclude victims of plane crashes. That means that there are no longer any damage caps imposed by the Death on the High Seas Act which would limit the compensation that the families of the deceased victims in plane crashes can receive for their loss.

Determining Liability in The Alaska Floatplane Accident

It is yet unknown what caused the floatplane to crash or who was responsible for the accident. The FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) and NTSB (National Transportation Safety Board) will have to investigate the crash, explore the crash site, and recover the black box recorder to learn more details about the accident. But even before their findings are known, there are various possible causes that could have brought the plane down. Pilot error is always a possibility, though to be fair, that could have been caused by factors like inclement weather, cloud cover that limits visibility, or even birds that crash into the plane. Southeast Aviation, LLC — the company responsible for providing the plane — could possibly be liable if they failed to carry out the proper maintenance procedures for the plane. Even the manufacturer of any defective parts could be responsible if equipment failure were at fault for this tragedy.  Furthermore, there are laws regarding cruise line responsibility for warning of known dangers in a port of call.  Alaska floatplanes are one of the most popular excursions embarked upon by cruise ship passengers and if there were factors present making it dangerous to embark on such an excursion on the day of the crash, the cruise line should have known of those dangers and should have warned cruise passengers about the increased risk or hazard.

But no matter who the FAA or NTSB determine is at fault for the crash, the families of the deceased passengers are entitled to compensation under the Wrongful Death law. Specifically, Alaska’s Wrongful Death Law, since that is where the crash occurred. The surviving family members are eligible for both economic and non-economic damages caused by the plane crash. Economic damages in a wrongful death case would include funeral and burial expenses and the loss of the deceased victim’s financial contributions to the family. Non-economic damages would include the loss of consortium for the surviving family members as well as any pain and suffering experienced by the victims before they died. However, the surviving family members would have to file the wrongful death claim within two years since that is the statute of limitations for wrongful death in Alaska.

Holland America Line Potentially Liable for The Floatplane Accident

Another way that this unfortunate story is relevant for cruise ship passengers is that the passengers of the floatplane were also guests of the Holland America Line cruise ship Nieuw Amsterdam. Therefore, it is possible the cruise line could bear some responsibility as well, even if they have no affiliation with the aviation company responsible for supplying the floatplane. The reason is that the cruise line has an obligation to warn passengers about any possible dangers in any ports of call to which a ship travels. Those dangers include warning cruise ship passengers about hazards in the port of call known to the cruise line.  Because of the popularity of float plane trips in Alaska, the cruise line should have been aware of possible hazardous weather conditions or had knowledge of prior accidents that could be relevant to their guests. In this case, there was a previous accident two years ago in the area that involved two planes crashing in mid-air.  Most cases of cruise ship negligence must be filed within one year of the date of incident due to a limitations period placed by the cruise line within the passenger ticket.  The one year statute of limitations placed within Holland America Line’s cruise ticket is a more restrictive statute of limitations than Alaska’s two year wrongful death statute of limitations.  Also, many cruise lines place restrictions in their cruise ticket as to where a lawsuit may be filed and maintained against the cruise line; for example, Holland America Line requires suit to be filed in the Federal Court located in Seattle, Washington

That is why it is necessary to at least consult with maritime attorneys in cases like this since their help could prove invaluable in securing even more compensation to take care of the surviving family members. With so many entities who could be responsible for this tragedy, the case could get complicated, but ultimately everyone will have to wait until the investigations are complete. The most important thing right now is that the surviving family members get the answers they need and the compensation they deserve. The FAA and NTSB should be able to take care of the former, while experienced aviation and maritime lawyers will be able to take care of the latter. 

Contact Lipcon, Margulies & Winkleman P.A. For World Class Representation

At Lipcon, Margulies & Winkleman P.A., we can help anyone with any questions they have about maritime and aviation law.  LM&W has been named “Lawyer of the Year” in Maritime Law and to “Best Law Firms”® by U.S. News & World Report. Furthermore, all of our named partners are named to “Best Lawyers” in America. 

So, if you or a loved one has experienced any kind of accident or tragedy on the seas or in the air, then contact us to receive the adept and knowledgeable representation you need. We will use our years of combined experience to help you in the best possible way. Call us today at 877-233-1238 or fill out our contact form to get the representation you deserve.

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