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Arizona Hot Air Balloon Tragedy Shows How Multiple Arizona Laws Can Apply to Accidents

Posted on February 15, 2024 in

A single harm-causing event can lead to the possible application of several kinds of laws that can apply directly or indirectly to the event itself.

Consider as an example a hot air balloon crash that happened in Eloy, Arizona, in January 2024. The incident, which took place about 65 miles south of Phoenix, led to the deaths of four of the five people in the balloon, with the fifth person being critically injured. 

As of this writing, the cause of the accident is unknown, and personnel from the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board who are investigating have so far found no mechanical defects in the balloon’s gondola.

What is known is that the Kubicek BB 85Z hot air balloon launched with 13 people on board: eight skydivers, four passengers, and the balloon pilot. Shortly after the skydivers jumped from the balloon, its envelope (the bag part of the balloon that inflates to provide lift) appears to have collapsed. This led to the balloon’s gondola hitting the ground at a lethal rate of speed.

In any accident that causes injury or death, careful fact analysis is important to understand what laws might apply and to whom. This accident shows how, depending on facts to be revealed, multiple Arizona laws can apply to a single injury-causing event. We briefly consider some of these laws below and the kinds of people they can apply to.

Legal Claims That Can Arise From Personal Injuries

Each personal injury matter is unique, with its own fact pattern of events and behaviors that led to the injury. Depending on its facts, an accident or other event that causes personal injury in Arizona can trigger the application of the following laws, by themselves or in combination.

Arizona Personal Injury Law

In any accident that leaves survivors, depending on the nature of the harm they suffered those survivors could have a legal cause of action for personal injury. An injured passenger in a vehicle being driven or piloted by another person could have a legal claim to recover monetary damages for any physical injuries, property loss, and emotional distress that the accident caused.

Wrongful Death Law and the Arizona Survival Statute

In an accident or other event that leads to death, either at the scene or later, surviving relatives of the deceased person or that person’s estate through its personal representative could have a claim for wrongful death or under Arizona statutory law in the form of a survival action.

Wrongful death claims and survival actions are similar in some ways but they rest on separate legal theories. It is possible to see a wrongful death lawsuit and an Arizona survival statute claim both apply to the same underlying event.

The main difference to keep in mind is that a wrongful death claim is meant to help surviving family members recover for their claims connected to the death of a loved one, while a statutory survival action is mainly intended to recover for harm that the deceased person suffered. A Phoenix personal injury lawyer can help to inform grieving family members whether and which of these laws might apply to their situation.

Arizona Agency Law

If a harm-causing accident takes place in the context of a business providing services, and an employee of that business causes the harm, then the business that person works for could be liable for any unreasonable or intentional acts of the employee that led to the injury. 

If, for example, a balloon ride company employee allowed too many people to be on the balloon when the accident happened, an injured rider or the surviving relatives or the estate of a rider who died in an accident could claim that the company that operated the balloon rides was negligent in its training and supervision of that employee.

Arizona Contract Law

Sometimes a business that provides services to customers might require customers to sign a waiver of liability claims against the business before they can engage the service. Many companies that engage in activities that can be considered high-risk, like skydiving or hot air balloon rides, will require their customers to sign liability waivers in advance stating that they will not try to sue the company if something goes wrong.

How effective such a liability waiver might be is something that a personal injury lawyer can help to determine.

Product Liability Laws

Sometimes a product can be designed or made in a way that makes it inherently and unreasonably unsafe to use. If an accident happens that a defective product contributed to, then anyone involved in making and selling that product could be held liable for harm caused to others because of that defect in design or manufacture.

Product liability law is also known as a “strict liability” law. Meaning, if a plaintiff in a lawsuit can prove that the product was inherently and unreasonably unsafe as it was designed or built, then there is no defense against a product liability claim.

Arizona Comparative Fault Laws

Sometimes a person who is injured in an accident involving another can be partly at fault for causing the accident. If this happens, a common defense in Arizona personal injury cases is for the defendant to ask the court to reduce any judgment award against it by a percentage amount equal to the percent of blame the plaintiff has for causing the accident.

People Who Can Be Sued in an Arizona Personal Liability Lawsuit

Like with the kinds of laws that can apply, the different kinds of people who can be subject to a personal injury lawsuit can vary depending on the facts of the injury-causing event.

People Who Caused the Accident

The person who directly caused the accident and its harm is the most common kind of defendant, including a vehicle operator if that person behaved in a negligent, intentional, or other unreasonable manner.

Note that under the concept of Arizona comparative fault we discussed above, a person who caused the accident can in some cases include the personal injury plaintiff. In this case, the defendant does not sue the plaintiff but rather raises comparative fault as an affirmative defense.

Employers of At-Fault Employees

As we discussed in agency law liability, if an employee harms you while that person is on the job then that person’s employer can also potentially become a defendant in a lawsuit. A driver who causes an accident on company time, for example, will often trigger a legal claim against his or her employer for negligent hiring or negligent supervision.

Third-Party Defendants

Anyone who had a hand in creating the circumstances leading to an injury-causing event can be a potential defendant in a personal injury legal action. As we have seen above, a manufacturer or seller of an unreasonably defective product can be liable. Or, if a patient suffers a hospital infection caused by a laundry contractor’s failure to properly clean bed sheets, that contractor can become a defendant.

Other examples of third-party defendants can include:

  • Drivers who contributed to causing an accident even if they were not involved in the collision themselves.
  • The estate of a defendant who contributed or caused an accident but did not survive it.
  • Trespassers whose unpermitted presence on property caused harm to another.
  • A local, municipal, or state government agency, if its failure to perform its duties created an environment that caused or contributed to the accident.

Defendants in an Arizona personal injury action are often subject to joint and several liability. This means that if the plaintiff wins, all of the defendants are potentially liable to pay for the plaintiff’s damages. It is up to the defendants to work out among themselves who is responsible for paying what portion of the money owed to the personal injury plaintiff.

Insurance Companies

Although insurance companies are not named as defendants or plaintiffs in Arizona personal injury lawsuits, many times some or all of the parties involved in the claims will be represented by insurance companies and their attorneys. 

Because most personal injury lawsuits settle out of court, it is important for a plaintiff’s personal injury attorney to understand how to negotiate with insurers on the facts of the accident, its cause, the legal issues involved, and in setting the value of the compensation the injured plaintiff will need in lieu of a court judgment.

Talk to a Phoenix Personal Injury Lawyer Today

In the Eloy balloon accident we referred to at the beginning of this post, it is still too early to know what caused the accident and who might have been responsible for it. Nor is it our purpose here to speculate about that accident.

That unfortunate incident does, however, serve to illustrate how a single injury-causing event, such as a balloon accident, can lead to legal issues that go beyond simple personal injury claims. These can involve several defendants, multiple claims under a variety of legal theories, apportioning of fault among several parties, and allocation of damages among multiple defendants.

Knowing how to investigate, negotiate, and if need be litigate a personal injury claim in Arizona takes a law firm that has attorneys and support staff who thoroughly understand everything that goes into preparing a compelling plaintiff’s case. That is what our lawyers do at Stone Rose Law.

In a free consultation, we can help to identify all your potential legal claims and against whom you can make them. Then we negotiate with defendants, their insurance companies, third parties, and their lawyers to make sure that you leave nothing on the table when it comes to receiving all the compensation you deserve if you are hurt in an accident or if such an accident takes the life of a loved one.

An accident that leads to injury or death is tragic. What can make it even more tragic is if there is no accountability for the accident on the part of those who caused it and not enough relief through monetary damages for the ones who suffer its effects. 

Don’t let this happen to you. 

If you have been in an injury-causing accident, call Stone Rose today at (480) 498-8998 today to set up a free initial consultation at our Phoenix offices, or reach out to us online to do the same.

Arizona has a two-year statute of limitations to file legal claims for personal injury. Don’t wait. Call Stone Rose Law today.