Aviation accidents are uncommon, but the effect is overwhelming when they do occur. The tragedy comes without warning, leaving you in shock, whether you or a family member was involved in the accident. Learn what you might expect in the aftermath. Know how you may start on recovering for your losses and protecting your legal rights.
The type of aid for accident survivors and their families after an accident can vary, based on accident type and location. For example, the response may be different if the accident is small or the location isn't within the US.
The Family Assistance Act and First Response
When there's a major airplane accident, several sources of law come into play, including federal, state and international law. A key law is a federal law, The Aviation Disaster Family Assistance Act of 1996. The Act governs procedures airlines and other government agencies follow after an accident. These include:
- Organizing support services for families; this includes grief and counseling services
- Establishing communications and briefings for families. This includes plans for confirming identities of family members
- Plans for identifying remains and personal effects, and returning them to families
- Providing assigned caregivers to a family for needed support
The support you receive from an airline after an accident is required by law. Don't misinterpret it as the airline admitting to liability, and it shouldn't impact your decision whether to seek damages in a lawsuit.
The Family Assistance Act doesn't apply to all aviation accidents, such as those involving smaller commuter or commercial services. However, these carriers may have established response plans in place. You may also see state agencies or organizations such as the American Red Cross involved with post-accident assistance.
You may find you need financial help after an accident. There are several sources for help: you may receive life insurance proceeds, or depending on your situation, other benefits such as workers' compensation might be available.
Airlines have agreements in some situations to provide set payments in advance to injured survivors, or to the estates of deceased passengers. These payments don't imply admitting liability. If you're awarded damages later on, the advance payments may be subtracted from the amount due.
Do beware of possible scams involving loans or advance payments. There are financial institutions or lenders who do make legitimate loans or advances secured by your future claim proceeds. However, there are also scam artists who take advantage after an accident, while you're in shock and vulnerable. If you're thinking about accepting any type of advance payment, have your lawyer review the contract.
Communication after an Accident
Communication comes in many forms and from many sources after an accident. It may start with the confirmation of your identity and relationship to a crash victim. Depending on whether you were a involved with an accident, or a family member of someone who was, contact from these sources is possible:
- The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB)
- The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) or other law enforcement agencies
- Companies involved with the accident
- Insurance company representatives
- Attorneys representing accident victims or other parties involved in the accident
- News media reporters
Exercise caution when talking to anyone about the accident; look after your legal rights and your right to privacy. Confirm the identity of anyone who wishes to speak with you, and stay in control. Find out who they are, who they represent and the exact reason for contact. Other than law enforcement and accident investigators, it's fine to say no and decide later. Referring them to your attorney, if you've retained one, is another option.
Limits on Attorney Solicitation
Federal law applying to major aviation accidents bars lawyers from unsolicited contact with accident survivors or a deceased person's survivors for 45 days after the accident. The law also applies to employees or agents of attorneys. It doesn't matter whether these parties represent or are connected to plaintiffs or defendants. The prohibition applies to direct contact, such as calling someone, and indirect methods such as e-mail and regular mail. Inappropriate contact should be reported to your state's bar association or disciplinary commission, or federal officials.
State law may also limit attorney solicitation after an accident. New York, for example, has a 30-day anti-solicitation rule. If attorneys violate these rules, disciplinary action and fines are possible. Your state's bar association is a good source for information on such rules.
Questions for Your Attorney
- Can I act on behalf of my loved one who was injured and is in the hospital?
- My spouse was in a plane crash, and we live several states away. Can you represent us for our immediate and local legal needs?
- My family member was a passenger on a plane that crashed. Am I entitled to recover costs for traveling to the accident location and expenses for my stay?