The Aviation Disaster Family Assistance Act (ADFAA), enacted in 1996, is designed to provide support for the families of victims of commercial airline crashes occurring in the United States. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), the government agency charged with investigating all domestic civil aviation crashes, was charged with executing the ADFAA, in response to which it issued detailed guidelines applicable to airlines and federal agencies.
Purpose of the ADFAA
The ADFAA was enacted for the purpose of resolving persistent problems in the treatment of grieving families in the aftermath of commercial airline crashes. Some of these problems included:
- Harassment of families by aggressive lawyers (lawyers must now wait 45 days to initiate contact with families)
- Release of passenger lists to the public before the victim’s next of kin were notified
- Poor coordination among federal, state and local government agencies as well as the airline and various volunteer assistance groups, to the detriment of the needs and sensibilities of grieving families
- Government “stonewalling” to avoid informing families of crash investigation results before public release
- A generally disorganized and thoughtless response to the needs of the victims’ families.
The NTSB is charged with the primary responsibility of supervising and executing compliance with ADFAA provisions. NTSB responsibilities under the ADFAA include:
- Notifying all families before the passenger list is released to the public
- Coordinating disaster response initiatives among various government entities and private volunteer organizations.
- Providing grieving families with contact details of a Family Advocate, who acts as a liaison between families and both the airline and relevant government agencies
- Appointing a nonprofit organization to provide mental health care counseling for families (the airliner shares the responsibility for providing counseling)
- Briefing families on its crash investigation prior to any public release of information
- Meeting with grieving families who travel to the crash site, and providing all necessary care
- Helping family members arrange memorial services
The airliner involved in the crash must provide housing for family members near the crash site as well as transportation to and from the site. Additionally, the airliner must establish a toll-free number to provide families with information and attend to their needs. It must also arrange for the return to the families of the victims’ remains and personal belongings. The airline must establish a Family Assistance Center to be managed by the NTSB (typically located in a hotel conference room) to provide investigation updates to family and friends, and to assist with other necessary matters such as providing mental health counseling.
The AFDAA is designed to comfort grieving families, not to compensate them for their losses. Although the immediate aftermath of a plane crash might not be the ideal time to begin preparing to file a lawsuit or negotiating a settlement, it is important to get started preparing your claim in time to beat the statute of limitations deadline. An experienced aviation law attorney can help you determine what you are entitled to and how to proceed with your claim.