The NTSB allows aviation manufacturers to participate in its crash investigations. But it excludes from the investigation the crash victims, the victims’ lawyers, and their experts. That’s how the NTSB has gone about investigating aviation accidents for years. It’s little wonder, then, that the NTSB’s final reports are frequently biased in favor of the manufacturers and against the pilots or the passengers. The conflict of interest inherent in the NTSB’s investigations is one reason why the NTSB most often concludes that a crash is due to pilot error rather than, for example, a mechanical defect.
Lawyers for crash victims have long complained that the manufacturers and their lawyers are too cozy with the NTSB. When the manufactures aren’t trying to influence the NTSB’s conclusions in their favor, they are using their status as a “party” to the NTSB investigation to gather information they can later use to defend themselves in lawsuits the victims might bring.
Lawyers for manufacturers used to deny that they were too chummy with the NTSB. Now, not only do they concede that its true, but they have started touting their relationship with the NTSB as a way of attracting more manufacturers as clients.
Wilson Elser is one of the country’s largest aviation lawyer firms representing manufacturers and other industry interests. Today the firm announced that it is launching a “national helicopter defense practice.” Why should a helicopter manufacturer hire Wilson Elser after a crash? Well, because Wilson Elser is in tight with the NTSB:
Our team consists of accomplished litigators and trial attorneys, which are key to any defense team, as well as collective experience in aviation and aerospace with a distinct focus on rotorcraft. Together with our strong relationships with the National Transportation Safety Board and Federal Aviation Administration, we are able to gather the information necessary to create strong defense theories.”
It hardly seems fair that defense law firms are allowed to use their cozy relationship with the NTSB and their status as a “party participant” in the NTSB investigations to gain an advantage in litigation against the crash victims. Yet, that is the way it is.