Working Together


By Robert L. Sumwalt

Today, I had the opportunity to speak to the Aviation and Space Law Committee of the American Bar Association’s Tort Trial & Insurance Practice Section. Because the NTSB’s investigations focus on gathering facts and determining probable cause – rather than assigning liability or fault – our interaction with the legal community is infrequent. Given the unique opportunity to address members of this community, I thought that I would provide a few key “take home” points that might assist their aviation clients in working with the NTSB following an accident.

First, my strongest recommendation to the assembled attorneys was that their client organizations become parties to NTSB investigations. NTSB rules allow party status for organizations that can provide technical expertise to an investigation. Their participation, and their knowledge, can very often prove critical in assisting the agency to determine what happened in an accident, so that we might make safety recommendations to prevent it from happening again.

Second, as a party member, an organization is entitled to make a party submission to express its views on the facts, analysis, probable cause, and recommendations. I encouraged the Committee’s members to ensure that their clients take advantage of this opportunity.

Third, in those instances where an accident report goes to the full Board for deliberation, I highly suggest the parties meet with the individual Board Members in person prior to the board meeting. Most people aren’t even aware that they can do this.

The NTSB has been fulfilling its mission for 45½ years, and we do it well. But if a party has new information that may be relevant to the investigation, or if erroneous information exists in the record, file a Petition for Reconsideration with the Board.

I hope that my suggestions will encourage organizations to take a more active role in future NTSB investigations. When the NTSB and parties to an investigation work together through the party system, it’s the American traveling public who ultimately benefits.

Robert L. Sumwalt was sworn in as the 37th Member of the National Transportation Safety Board on August 21, 2006. He is a frequent contributor to the NTSB blog.

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