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The role of FAA regulations as evidence in aviation accidents

It has been said that statistically speaking, commercial aviation is the safest way to travel. While this may be true, the fact remains that when an aircraft accident occurs, many times it leaves few if any witnesses alive to tell the story of what happened to cause the crash.

For government investigators and family members of anyone who perished in a fatal aviation accident, the potential lack of availability of witness testimony presents challenges in identifying what led to the accident. Often, what is most important in the investigation is careful examination of the crash site itself, as well as recovery of flight data recorders. Another possible source of data can be the records of those who built, operated and maintained the plane itself.

The FAA can be helpful in this regard, because it proposes and issues regulations covering many aspects of the commercial aviation industry. Some of these regulations impose record-keeping requirements. Those records, in turn, can become part of the basis to help identify the possible role, if any, that the actions or failure to act of the manufacturers and operators may have played in creating potentially dangerous conditions.

If an aircraft manufacturer or operator in Texas or elsewhere becomes a party in a lawsuit that alleges negligence or wrongful death in connection with a plane crash, then attorneys for the plaintiffs can seek to access the FAA-required records of those parties through a legal process known as discovery.

If those records were not properly kept, or reveal possible problems suggesting negligent manufacture, maintenance or operation of the plane, then that information may be useful as evidence in court.

FAA record-keeping requirements are extensive, and the language of the FAA regulations can be complex. Anyone seeking to explore the possibility of negligence on the part of an aircraft builder or air carrier would be well-advised to retain legal counsel familiar with those FAA requirements.

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