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In the absence of statutes covering the operation and management of airplanes at the time and place of an accident, the ordinary rules of negligence are applicable to cases of damage to persons and property caused by aircraft[i].

The requisite elements of a negligence cause of action are[ii]:

  • a duty of care owed by defendant to plaintiff;
  • defendant negligently breached the duty of care; and
  • the breach was the proximate cause of plaintiff’s injury.


In Holt v. Am. Med. Sys., 1997 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 24194 (C.D. Cal. June 6, 1997), the court held that a plaintiff alleging negligence must establish, by a preponderance of the evidence, that a defendant’s negligence proximately caused plaintiff’s harm.

The foreseeability of the risk of injury is a major consideration in determining the existence of a duty of reasonable care[iii].  The fact-specific analysis of whether a duty of reasonable care arises also involves identifying, weighing, and balancing several factors, such as:

  • the relationship of the parties,
  • the nature of the attendant risk,
  • the opportunity and ability to exercise care, and
  • the public interest in the proposed solution.


Further, a plaintiff must demonstrate four elements to establish a negligence per se claim[iv]:

  • the defendant violated a statute;
  • the statutory violation proximately caused injury;
  • the injury was the type that the statute was intended to prevent; and
  • the injured person was one of the class for whose protection the statute was adopted.


The maxim of res ipsa loquitur is applicable to airplane accidents.  In a case where the maxim res ipsa loquitur is applicable, a plaintiff does not lose the benefit of it by alleging specific acts of negligence which he fails to prove[v].

The doctrine res ipsa loquitur asserts that whenever a thing which produced an injury is shown to have been under the control and management of the defendant, and the occurrence is such as in the ordinary course of events does not happen if due care has been exercised, the fact of injury itself will be deemed to afford sufficient evidence to support a recovery in the absence of any explanation by the defendant tending to show that the injury was not due to his want of care[vi].

[i] Todd v. Weikle, 36 Md. App. 663 (Md. Ct. Spec. App. 1977).

[ii] Holt v. Am. Med. Sys., 1997 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 24194 (C.D. Cal. June 6, 1997).

[iii] In re Jacoby Airplane Crash Litig., 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 93920 (D.N.J. Dec. 21, 2007).

[iv] Holt v. Am. Med. Sys., 1997 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 24194 (C.D. Cal. June 6, 1997).

[v] Southeastern Aviation, Inc. v. Hurd, 209 Tenn. 639 (Tenn. 1962).

[vi] Herndon v. Gregory, 190 Ark. 702 (Ark. 1935).

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