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.
Improper motive or bias is a particularly important consideration that needs to be taken into account when it comes to government reports of aviation accidents. As we’ve previously pointed out, the National Transportation Safety Board—which is one of the government agencies heavily involved in investigating aviation accidents—doesn’t have the best reputation when it comes to investigating general aviation accidents. Among other problems, there is the issue of potential bias in favor of airplane and component manufacturers. This can be a real issue for pilots and passengers harmed in a crash, since government accident reports are less likely to include information that could compromise manufacturers.
Every airplane accident occurs under different circumstances and it is important for crash victims seeking compensation to work with an experienced attorney who understands not only how to carefully read government accident reports and mine them for information that can be used to build a strong case, but also how to recognize the limitations of these reports and work to exclude their findings from evidence when appropriate and beneficial for an accident victim.