I don’t know of any cases in the United States where pilots have faced civil action, as when a doctor is sued for malpractice (attorneys realize it’s the airlines and manufacturers with the deep pockets, not employees), but in many other countries pilots have been arrested and put on criminal trial for their professional mistakes. One prominent case involved manslaughter charges brought against the captain of a turboprop that crashed in New Zealand in 1995. In 2000, three pilots of a Singapore Airlines 747 were taken into police custody in Taiwan after a crash at Taipei’s Chiang Kai Shek airport. They were forced to remain in Taiwan for two months, facing up to five years in prison on charges of “professional negligence.” Pilots in Brazil, Italy, and Greece have dealt with similar situations. In 2001, a Japanese crew was interrogated by law enforcement after taking evasive action to avoid an inflight collision with another aircraft. Several people were injured during the maneuver, and police officers were sent to the cockpit after landing..
“Fortunately, in the United States and many other nations, the emphasis is on getting to the root causes of accidents and fixing the problem,” says an ALPA representative. “It doesn’t work that way in all countries, And that includes industrialized democracies where you’d think they’d know better. Pilots, controllers, and even company officials can do hard time for an inadvertent error that doesn’t come close to a reasonable definition of criminal negligence. You can imagine what a chilling effect that has on the accident investigation process.”