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NTSB aircraft accident investigations, their relationship to accident litigation, P.2

Last time, we began looking at some features of the process the National Transportation Safety Board uses when investigating aircraft accidents. As we noted, the specific manner in which aircraft accidents are investigated depends on the nature of the accident. Whatever avenue is taken for investigation, though, any findings made in the process do not determine legal liability and cannot be used as evidence in court.

This is an important point, since much of the information gathered in NTSB investigations is quite valuable in personal injury and wrongful death litigation. Is none of it admissible at trial, then? The important distinction to make is that while the NTSB’s probable cause findings and recommendations to prevent future accidents are not admissible, its factual reports generally are admissible. This means that plaintiffs may make use of these findings to support personal injury and wrongful death claims. 

Because the factual reports generated by NTSB investigations serve as the basis for probable cause findings and safety recommendations, and may also generally be admitted at trial, parties implicated in an investigation generally want to review the reports and make use of the process to make any factual corrections or clarifications.

Some of the things that can be corrected in factual reports include:

  • Factual mistakes
  • Misleading conclusions due to lack of information
  • Inappropriate nuance or characterization
  • Failure to specific whether measurements meet or fall outside an applicable standard
  • The inclusion of opinions rather than facts

The process for requesting changes to factual reports is not necessarily easy, but engaging it can help ensure that the factual report produced by the NTSB is as accurate as possible. This, in turn, makes it a better tool for accurately determining liability in litigation.

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