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.
The finality of factual findings is also important to clarify as well, when seeking to admit or exclude information contained in government accident reports. Finality refers to the degree to which the findings are the product of an investigation conducted by a public office or agency. A closely related issue is whether the findings of an aviation accident report are based on third-party materials. Uncritical adoption of such information by an investigating agency would weaken the factuality of findings based on that information.
Aside from the issue of factuality, there is also the issue of trustworthiness. Factual findings have to be considered trustworthy to be admitted into evidence. There are a number of factors that can affect the trustworthiness of factual findings, including the timeliness of the accident investigation, the special skill or experience necessary to conduct a reliable investigation, and whether there may have been agency bias or improper motivation.
We’ll pick back up this issue in our next post, and look at the importance of working with an experienced attorney when pursuing aviation accident litigation.