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Laws & Regulations

Under the law, you are afforded basic rights when you are a victim of someone else's negligence. Plane crash victims' families and survivors have such basic rights under state, federal, and even international law.

The following laws protect victims' rights:

  • The Air Commerce Act was created in 1926 to provide the certification and registration of aircraft employed in interstate or foreign commerce.
  • In 1938 the Civil Aeronautics Act, which created the Civil Aeronautics Authority, was established. This act amended the statute with a five-member panel that had the power to regulate all aspects of aviation within federal jurisdiction. Later, this five-member panel became the Civil Aeronautics Board, transferring most of its power to the Department of Commerce.
  • The Federal Aviation Act and Regulations - set minimum safety standards for pilot conduct, flight operations and aircraft manufacture. The Federal Aviation Agency was established in 1958 with the passing of the Federal Aviation Act. For the most part, aviation law is federally based and states are prohibited from regulating rates, routes, or services of any air carrier authorized under the Federal Aviation Act to provide interstate air transportation. The FAA uses several different strategies to enforce FAA regulations, either through civil penalty, criminal penalty, administrative action, certification action, or reexamination. Depending on the aircraft situation, the FAA will take appropriate measures to determine what type of action is necessary.
  • The Federal Tort Claims Act - controls cases brought against the federal government for the negligence of air traffic controllers and others.
  • The Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act - governs suits against foreign governments, including many foreign airlines and manufacturers.
  • The Aviation Disaster Family Assistance Act. In 1996, after the TWA crash that killed 230 people off Long Island, NY, Congress passed the Aviation Disaster Family Assistance Act. The Aviation Disaster Family Assistance Act states that after a crash, everyone involved must treat families of victims with great care and respect. Here are the main points of the law:

    -Family members should be given time to notify other relatives before the names of passengers are made public.

    -Airlines must offer crisis counseling.

    -Airlines must make hotel rooms and food available.

  • -Airlines must help family members retrieve dental records and X-rays to identify the victims.

    -Airlines must provide transportation to and from the crash site.

    -Airlines should consult family members about a memorial.

  • Unlike civil air crashes that are investigated by the National Transportation Safety Board, military air disasters fall under the jurisdiction of the Military Safety Mishap Board. This organization prepares a secret report, much of which is not released to the public. Another Report, also called a Collateral report, may be prepared depending on the service branch involved. This report is usually made public, but doesn't contain the manufacturer's analysis or witness statements that are the basis of the secret Safety Mishap Investigation. This lack of information greatly complicates the task of bringing a lawsuit and finding answers.
  • Private citizens injured by military aircraft can sue the government under the Federal Tort Claims Act. The Act allows the United States to be sued "as if it were a private person," for the negligent acts or omissions of its employees. Under the Act the victim must file a claim with the responsible agency within two (2) years of the injury, among other requirements.

  • Since the federal government preempts states from developing safety standards of their own, juries in state civil cases are limited to determining whether a particular plaintiff violated federal safety standards in order to determine liability. Any possible litigation in a state court involving aviation accidents must consider the complex regulatory scheme under the Federal Aviation Act as enforced by the National Transportation and Safety Board. Congress vested the NTSB the responsibility of overseeing and regulating transportation in the United States, including all aviation transportation. As part of that responsibility the NTSB investigates all aviation accidents to determine the cause of the accident; however, federal law strictly limits the use of these NTSB reports in civil litigation to establish liability.

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