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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. 

The National Transportation Safety Board is the federal agency responsible for investigating civil aviation accidents. We’ve previously written on this blog about some of the problems with NTSB reports, which include a tendency to rely on manufacturers to identify problems with aircraft component parts and a heavy focus on the cause of the crash rather than the cause of injury or death. Nevertheless, NTSB aviation accident reports can be valuable to crash victims and surviving family members seeking compensation for injuries and losses.

One important issue with NTSB reports in aviation accident litigation is admissibility, or whether the information contained in the report may be admitted into evidence at trial under the rules of evidence.

First of all, it is only the factual findings contained in these reports which may be admissible as evidence. Separating factual findings from other types of information, though, isn’t necessarily easy. We’ll say more about this in our next post, and the importance of working with an experienced attorney to scrutinize the trustworthiness of evidence available in aviation accident reports. 

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