What is the Aviation Disaster Family Assistance Act?

A major airline disaster can be harrowing for the family members of the victims. Families may endure constant exposure to crash footage on the news, deal with reporters and life insurance companies, all while waiting to hear any news of the survivors. In order to treat victims and their relatives with respect, the federal government created the Aviation Disaster Family Assistance Act of 1996 to provide support services to the families of victims of commercial airplane accidents.

Benefits and Rights of Relatives After a Major Airplane Crash

It can take some time to determine what caused an airplane to crash, and representatives of several agencies may conduct investigations into the accident. The federal National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is legally bound to investigate commercial aircraft disasters, but the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) may also be involved in examining the crash site.

During this time, the airline and the NTSB have certain duties to the relatives of crash victims under the Aviation Disaster Family Assistance Act, including:

  • Communication. The NTSB must designate an independent, nonprofit organization to coordinate information services for the victims' families and the disaster survivors. This may include communicating with foreign governments, performing translation services for family members, and providing a daily briefing for families on the status of the investigation.
  • Safe space. Families have a right to their time to grieve without being contacted by members of the press, insurance companies, representatives of the airline, and other parties. Surviving victims and the families of those who died are protected from solicitation while at the crash location or staying in a hotel near the site.
  • Identification services. If remains have been found, families should not have to go through the disturbing process of identifying a loved one’s body. The NTSB must appoint a qualified third party to perform forensic services necessary to establish the victim’s identification and inform relatives of the death of family members in a timely fashion.
  • Grief counseling. Licensed therapists should be on hand after a disaster to provide mental health and counseling services for families, including professionals to help relatives arrange a memorial service.
  • Airline procedures and responsibilities. The Act specifically places a variety of responsibilities on the airline whose craft was involved in the crash. Firstly, the airline must make a list of all passengers on the downed flight and inform the passengers’ next of kin before the list is made public. Airlines have a duty to help family members retrieve dental records, X-rays, and other methods of identifying the victims, and provide travel to the crash site as well as room and board for families who wish to come to the location of the accident. Finally, the commercial airline must create a toll-free telephone number for families of victims to get updated survivor information, learn what steps the airline is taking after the crash, and how to contact the airline about a memorial service.
  • Protection from unsolicited attorneys. In the 1990s, Congress added a provision in the Aviation Disaster Family Assistance Act to prevent attorneys from seeking out families of crash survivors while they were in mourning or attending memorial services. As a result, lawyers and their agents are prohibited from unsolicited communications with crash survivors and relatives of victims until at least 45 days after the crash.

Our law firm takes the right to grieve very seriously, and will never harass or even approach victims who have suffered the sudden loss of a loved one. We know that when the time is right, we can be counted upon to perform an in-depth investigation of a charter plane, helicopter, or commercial airline crash. Our experienced team of aviation attorneys and investigators can secure internal documents, preserve the wreckage, determine liability, and protect the family’s rights during negotiations with insurance providers and airline representatives. 

No matter who is responsible for the crash, we will do everything we can to secure you the compensation you need to move on from the tragedy—and we do not collect any legal fees unless we win your case. Simply fill out the short contact form on this page to set up your no-cost injury consultation, or learn more about your rights in our free guide, The 10 Worst Mistakes You Can Make With Your Tennessee Injury Case.

John Griffith
Nashville Personal Injury Trial Attorney