Kreindler & Kreindler LLP
Contact Us
Main Navigation

U.S. Aviation Accidents Law Blog

Pursuing a claim under the FTCA for military aviation accident injuries

In our last post, we noted that there are significant limitations on active duty military members’ ability to seek compensation from the federal government for losses in aviation accidents. Active duty service members may not be able to file lawsuits for damages in many circumstances, but they should work with an experienced aviation law attorney to understand when they may have the right to sue.

For civilians, veterans and military dependants, the ability to recover damages in connection with a military aviation accident is less narrow. Under the Federal Tort Claims Act, an injured party as the right to sue the federal government for damages, including personal injury and wrongful death. In order to pursue a claim under the law, though, a party must first exhaust any administrative remedies with the agency responsible for causing the harm. 

Marines discontinue use of aircraft fleet after worst accident in decade

Last month, a military aircraft crashed in Mississippi and killed 16 individuals, making for one of the worst aviation accidents the Marines have experienced in over 10 years. According to reports, the aircraft apparently broke apart at cruising altitude. According to an anonymous pilot, the aircraft broke into two parts in front of the wings. The cause of the aircraft’s dismemberment is still unknown.

Shortly after that accident, the Marine Corps announced that it would be discontinuing flights of its KC-130T aircrafts indefinitely. The KC-130T cargo plane has been around since 1983, and gained a reputation during the Cold War era as one of the most reliable aircraft in military use. The aircraft is mostly used for transporting cargo and fuel. 

Are government accident reports admissible as evidence at trial? P.3

We’ve been looking in recent posts at the admissibility of government accident reports as evidence in court. This is an important issue not only in aviation accidents involving personal injury and wrongful death claims, but also in those involving product liability claims. In aviation accident litigation involving any of these types of claims, the information contained in a government accident report can be potentially valuable for plaintiffs.

We’ve already pointed out that factuality and trustworthiness are two important requirements for the admission into evidence of findings contained in government accident reports. The factuality requirement excludes the admission of legal conclusions, and trustworthiness excludes findings which are compromised due to factors like lack of timeliness in the investigation, improper motive or bias, and lack of special skill or experience necessary to conduct an accurate investigation. 

Are government accident reports admissible as evidence at trial? P.2

In our previous post, we began looking at the potential usefulness of government accident reports for victims of airline crashes. These reports can sometimes be used to the benefit of crash victims, but there are certain issues that have to be taken into consideration with respect to the admissibility of these reports into evidence at trial.

The first issue, as we mentioned last time, is the factuality of the contents of the report. While factual findings and statements that follow from them are admissible, legal conclusions are not. This includes judicial or jury findings. The deference that would normally be given to such findings is one of the reasons for the admissibility of these statements. 

Are government accident reports admissible as evidence at trial?

For victims of aviation accidents, whether injured passengers or surviving family members, building a strong personal injury, wrongful death or product liability case requires solid evidence of liability, whether on the part of the airline, airplane manufacturers, suppliers, maintenance contractors or any other party that contributed to the crash.  

Building solid factual support for claims in an aviation accident case requires not only diligence in seeking out sources of reliable information about the accident, but also knowing how to deal with both favorable and unfavorable evidence in the context of aviation litigation. One area where this is particularly important is in dealing with government aviation accident reports. 

Black box recorders a useful source of evidence in commercial airline accidents

Building a solid aviation accident case, like any accident case, is dependent on the available evidence regarding the crash. Obtaining evidence typically involves examining the wreckage, interviewing any survivors who were involved in the crash, as well as eyewitnesses to the accident and others who have knowledge of the flight.

One important tool investigators have in examining airplane accidents is the black box recorder. These are similar to the black boxes installed in motor vehicles in that they record information about the airplane’s operations leading up to the accident. The details captured by these devices can help investigators determine how an accident occurred and can help in the determination of fault. 

Report highlights NTSB failure to conduct thorough general aviation accident investigations, P.2

In our last post, we began looking a recent USA Today report highlighting the some of the problems with the National Transportation Safety Board's approach to investigation of general aviation accidents. These problems include not devoting enough resources to these investigations, relying on manufacturers to identify problems with component parts, and heavy emphasis on the cause of the crash, as opposed to the cause of injury or death.

The latter issue is problematic because it means that the agency is ignoring problems with crashworthiness, or the ability of airplanes to protect aircraft occupants in the event of an accident. For example, in some minor accidents death or serious injury is caused not by the crash itself but by fires ignited as a result of the crash. Without thoroughly investigating the real causes of injury and death, manufacturers are left free to not address this issue, and others like it.

Report highlights NTSB failure to conduct thorough general aviation accident investigations, P.1

We’ve previously written on this blog about the general process the National Transportation Safety Board uses and the relationship between NTSB aircraft accident investigations and aircraft accident litigation. As we noted, NTSB probable cause findings and recommendations are not admissible in court, but the agency’s factual reports generally are admissible. It is important, therefore, that these factual reports are accurate.

For pilots of small aircraft, accuracy in factual reporting is particularly important, as there is a tendency for NTSB investigators to blame accidents on pilot error when the causes are not sufficiently understood. According to some who’ve looked into the process, NTSB investigators routinely overlook defective parts and dangerous designs as causes of small airplane crashes. 

Recent cases chip away at federal preemption in aviation-related product liability cases, P.2

Last time, we mentioned that recent cases have begun chipping away at federal preemption in the context of aviation-related product liability cases. These cases dealt with both the Federal Aviation Act and the General Aviation Revitalization Act, both of which have previously been held to preempt or trump state law when there is a conflict.

In short, recent decisions have established that the Federal Aviation Act doesn’t prevent states from exceeding its minimum standards and that standards set by the General Aviation Revitalization Act do not apply to state law liability claims. Because both of these cases served to limit liability for manufacturers, the chipping away at their precedence over state law claims means that plaintiffs may have an easier time resolving aircraft manufacturer liability cases in their favor in the future. 

Recent cases chip away at federal preemption in aviation-related product liability cases, P.1

For those who have been harmed in an aircraft accident caused by defects parts, working with an experienced attorney who has a strong handle on the law is critical to pursuing a successful case. Building a solid product liability case in the context of aviation accidents is not necessarily an easy matter, though. One reason for this is that the applicable legal standards need to be highlighted and accurately applied.

Legal standards surrounding product liability or aircraft are not uniform at the state and federal level, and it isn’t necessarily the case that federal law trumps state law when there is a conflict. At least not anymore, after recent cases which are chipping away at federal preemption in this area.  

How Can We Help You?

Bold labels are required.

Contact Information

The use of the Internet or this form for communication with the firm or any individual member of the firm does not establish an attorney-client relationship. Confidential or time-sensitive information should not be sent through this form.


Privacy Policy

Kreindler & Kreindler LLP

New York Office
750 Third Avenue, 32nd Floor
New York, NY 10017

Toll Free: 800-331-2782
Phone: 212-687-8181
Fax: 212-972-9432
Map & Directions

Los Angeles Office
707 Wilshire Boulevard, Suite 3600
Los Angeles, CA 90017

Toll Free: 800-331-2782
Phone: 213-622-6469
Fax: 213-622-6019
Map & Directions

Boston Office
855 Boylston Street, Suite 1101
Boston, MA 02116

Toll Free: 800-331-2782
Phone: 617-424-9100
Fax: 617-424-9120
Map & Directions