Aviation accidents are newsworthy events, and the victims’ names and hometowns often end up in the papers. When that happens, disreputable lawyers descend upon the family members, hoping to sign the families to retainer agreements when they are most vulnerable.

State ethics laws generally prohibit lawyers from making uninvited in-person or telephone contact with a victim’s family to solicit business. Some states allow attorneys to send the families letters or emails, but even then there are limitations and restrictions on what the letters or emails may say.

If an aviation accident qualifies as a major airline disaster, then federal law comes into play. Federal law prohibits an attorney from making any uninvited contact with a relative of a passenger killed in a major airline disaster during the first 45 days after the crash. The law prohibits attorneys not just from making contact in person or through phone calls, but from sending emails or letters as well. The federal law applies to keep away not just lawyers seeking to represent the families, but also those hired by the airlines or insurance companies.