ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) - Just in time for Balloon Fiesta, an Albuquerque law firm is advertising its new specialty: Hot air balloon crashes.
"Passengers have the right to know that they will be able to get on a hot air balloon and fly around safely and come back to air safely without any human factors leading to their injury," said Kendrick Dane of Dane Law Firm.
Every year, Balloon Fiesta see some close calls that lead to a broken bone or two.
Sometimes, they go beyond close calls.
Over the past 40 years, a dozen people who have gone up in balloons during the Fiesta have died.
Dane insists the specialty isn't about being opportunistic.
"Some of the greatest leaps and bounds in aviation history in terms of passenger safety have come from litigation after crashes," he said. "It's sometimes the only thing that spurs new regulations and new and fresh ideas about how to fly safely."
Some Fiesta accidents have resulted in big payouts. A jury said a pilot in a 2009 flight was reckless and that Balloon Fiesta was negligent. The passenger was awarded nearly $4 million. That verdict is being appealed.
Dane says passengers can empower themselves by avoiding high capacity balloons, which lead to more accidents.
He also recommends finding a pilot with more than 800 hours flight experience. Hot air balloon pilots can be licensed after only 35 hours.
Dane also says the releases balloon passengers sign don't hold up in court if there's proven negligence.
"In New Mexico, we have a public policy embodied by our government that says these releases are not fair to the public, they encourage reckless conduct, and we're not going to uphold them most of the time," he said.
Balloon Fiesta officials declined to comment.