Generally, crew members may not sue their employers for injuries sustained on the job. Even where the crew member’s injury was caused by the negligence of the employer or one of the crew member’s co-employees, the crew member’s sole remedy against his employer is to pursue a workers’ compensation case. This is known as the "exclusive remedy rule." The trouble with the exclusive remedy rule is that worker’s compensation benefits are limited and are seldom adequate to compensate a crew member or the crew member’s family for the injuries suffered in an aviation accident.
Fortunately, the exclusive remedy rule does not prevent a crew member from suing third parties who caused or contributed to the injury. Therefore, a crew member injured in an aviation accident may sue the aircraft manufacturer if the accident was caused by a defect in the design or manufacture of the aircraft. Similarly, where the accident was caused by the negligence of a mechanic who worked on the aircraft, the crew member may sue the mechanic provided, of course, that the mechanic was not one of the crew member’s co-employees.
There are few exceptions to the "exclusive remedy" rule. For example, a crew member can sue the employer who caused his injuries where:
- The employer didn’t maintain workers compensation insurance;
- The injury was the result of certain types of intentional wrongdoing on the employer’s part; or
- The crew member was injured by a product or part that the employer manufactured.
The "exclusive remedy" rule also prevents the crew member from suing any co-worker who caused the accident. Again, there are a few exceptions for unusual situations. For example, a crew member may sue his co-worker where the co-worker’s actions were malicious and with an intent to cause injury, or when the co-worker was intoxicated.