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Aviation Accidents

Who is legally liable for damages in a general aviation accident?

Potentially liable parties vary depending on the cause of the accident. The owner and operator of the aircraft certainly may be liable. Manufacturers or maintenance suppliers may be liable in certain circumstances. In one recent case, a company that leased a plane to an inexperienced pilot was found to be liable. An experienced aviation attorney is essential in identifying all possible claims and defendants.

What is the NTSB?

The National Transportation Safety Board ("NTSB") is an independent federal agency charged with investigating every civil aviation accident in the United States. Its jurisdiction also includes trains and other vehicle accidents as well. The NTSB also issues safety recommendations aimed at preventing future accidents. The NTSB maintains the government's database on civil aviation accidents and conducts special studies of transportation safety issues of national significance. The NTSB also provides investigators to serve as U.S. representatives in aviation accidents overseas involving U.S. - registered aircraft, aircraft or major components of U.S. manufacturers or where requested by foreign governments.

What is the FAA?

The Federal Aviation Administration ("FAA") is the element of the U.S. government with primary responsibility for the safety of civil aviation. It is separate from, and independent of, the NTSB.

What role does the FBI play in the investigation of an aviation accident?

The FBI's role is to investigate the possibility of sabotage or some other criminal act that may have contributed to an accident. Though the FBI is consulted in many aviation disasters, they take over jurisdiction only in rare cases where criminal acts form the reason for the accident.

What agencies are involved in the investigation of aviation accidents?

In addition to the NTSB, FAA, and FBI, accident investigation may involve foreign or local authorities or the Departments of Justice, State and/or Defense. Agencies such as the American Red Cross, Department of Health and Human Services, and Federal Emergency Management Agency may also be involved in providing services to victims and their families. Depending on the circumstances of any given crash, other agencies may also be involved.

What insurance is the owner of a general aviation aircraft required to have?

The typical liability insurance policy will provide $100,000 of coverage per passenger/injury.

What is a "statute of repose?"

In the context of aviation litigation, a "Statute of Repose" limits the time a lawsuit may be filed with regard to how long an airplane or part has been in service. The applicable time period varies depending on the jurisdiction.

What is a "black box?"

The term "Black Box" actually refers to two "black boxes" - the flight data and cockpit voice recorders. These instruments record a wide variety of information, such as speed and altitude or the voice communication within the cockpit. The black boxes are also equipped with beacons that aid rescuers in locating them.

Can the government be held responsible for an aviation accident?

Under the Federal Tort Claims Act, the United States has been sued for the negligence of an air traffic controller that led to an aviation disaster.

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