Practice Methods

Aviation cases require a definite practice method because of their technical nature and because of the General Aviation Revitalization Act of 1994 (GARA). These are the steps that we take in our practice:

First, the GARA date must be determined for the aircraft and any relevant component parts. Under GARA, a manufacturer and a component-parts manufacturer are liable for their product for only 18 years from the date the product was first put into service. After that time, a claim cannot be made against the product. It also must be determined whether the date will run before the statute of limitations.

Second, arrangements must be made to have the aircraft wreckage secured by the owner. This is normally done in a limited-access-storage facility, which documents access to the wreckage.

Third, arrangements must be made to inspect and photograph the aircraft wreckage as soon as possible.

Fourth, an early decision must be made concerning the type of experts needed to determine whether a claim should be made.

The initial investigation is usually started well before the NTSB factual report is available and before the NTSB will allow access to the relevant parts. Under the law, the injured party’s representatives have no right to be a part of the NTSB investigation. On the other hand, representatives of the manufacturer and component-parts manufacturers are allowed to participate in the NTSB investigation. This basic inequity may require the injured party’s lawyer to work without access to the wreckage during the initial portion of the investigation.

Aircraft-accident investigation is an art that requires a good forensic expert and an experienced attorney. It is unwise to wait for the NTSB report, hoping that it will be favorable to the injured party. It is rare that the NTSB report can be used as a basis to successfully sue a manufacturer. An independent investigation must be started by the injured party as soon as possible.