Spohrer & Dodd, P.L.
701 West Adams Street
Jacksonville, FL 32204
■ E-Mail Me ■
Western District of Oklahoma
:Airborne Law Enforcement
American Bar Association
Lawyer Pilots Bar Assn.
Adjunct Law Professor:
Barry E. Newman Board Certified Attorney
Settlements & Verdicts
DUI Aviation Product Boat Pedestrian Auto Government Death Claims Links
Legal Tips for Aviators
There are a number of things Pilots can do to protect themselves or minimize the risks of civil liability (lawsuits), civil penalties, enforcement actions (fines and/or suspensions) and even criminal prosecutions for violations of Federal Aviation Regulations.
Never call the Tower!
Controllers typically instruct pilots to "call the tower" after a potential FAR violation. They do this to collect additional evidence for their enforcement action over the recorded line. Never call the tower if you think there might have been a violation. You are not required by any rule or law to do so.
If there is any possibility you violated an FAR, quickly complete an online ASRS ("NASA form") at the link below. This is an anonymous report that, if made within ten (10) days, may prevent a license suspension. The ASRS submission will not immunize you from an intentional act or a number of other violations, but it may help. https://asrs.arc.nasa.gov/report/electronic.html
ATC has six months to investigate a potential pilot violation. The FAA may send you a letter of investigation. You should not respond without the advice of counsel and you are under no obligation to respond to a letter of investigation.
If, however, you receive a Notice of Proposed Certificate Action (NOPCA) or Notice of Proposed Civil Penalty (NOPCP), contact an Aviation Attorney immediately and never contact the FAA to discuss this as anything you say can be used as evidence against you. In cases of an Emergency NOPCA, you may have as little as three (3) days to challenge this before your license is revoked. Consider joining the AOPA Legal Services Plan, which can provide you with excellent advice concerning NOPCAs and NOPCPs quickly.
What are my obligations during a ramp check?
An FAA inspector may conduct a "ramp check" to inspect your aircraft's: airworthiness and registration certificates; Weight & balance; Pilot operating handbook; charts; airworthiness; ELT battery, seatbelts and VOR check. They may also ask to see your license, medical certificate and a valid photo ID. They may inspect your charts but may exhibit electronic charts if current. You are also entitled to see the inspector's credentials. Unless you are an instructor, sport pilot, student pilot or recreational pilot, you are not required to show your pilot logbook and these should be kept at home. You must cooperate but are not required to answer questions or sign any documents.
Unlike an FAA safety inspector who's powers are mostly administrative, police are an entirely different thing. Generally, if police are investigating an incident, their findings may result in criminal prosecution.
Under the 5th Amendment, you cannot be compelled to answer their questions. Because jail and/or heavy fines could result, you should always decline to make statements and ask for an attorney before answering any questions. Police have the right to demand identification and to see, but not seize, your pilot's license.
The police may detain you for a reasonable time without arrest if necessary. If you resist or interfere with their investigation, you will likely be arrested.
The right to search an aircraft is governed by the 4th Amendment. Unless the police are looking for a fleeing suspect, or suspect that someone's life may be in immediate danger, police should obtain a warrant issued by a court before searching your aircraft. To obtain such a warrant, they will need to show probable cause.
Probable cause is a reasonable suspicion that a crime was committed and it was committed by you.
What must be disclosed on a Medical Application?
Though Congress has recently changed the game on Third Class medical certification, the FAA's rules have yet to change. When completing the form 8500-8 application for medical certification online, all pilots are required to disclose all medications and any medical conditions. Pilots must also disclose their history of any DUI convictions. The failure to disclose these may result in a certificate action, revocation of the medical certificate or, if fraudulent, deferral to the Department of Justice for criminal prosecution.
What should I do right after a crash?
Do not admit fault and resist speaking to law enforcement, the NTSB, FAA or media other than to pray for any occupants or thank first responders. You cannot ensure that your statements will not be used against you and the adrenaline rush may cause you to inaccurately recall the events. Secure the aircraft and pilot logs, Airworthiness and Registration certificates along with any FAA Form 337's and repair orders. Assume these will be requested by the NTSB. Have an aviation attorney act as liaison for these discussions. Notify your aircraft insurance policy and take measures to arrange for safe storage of the airplane with a salvagor. Do not allow anyone to otherwise alter the wreckage as this could result in Court sanctions for destruction of the evidence.
How do I report an accident?
If you are an "operator" you are required to report any aircraft "accident" and some "incidents" to the NTSB immediately, by the most expeditious means possible. Also, within ten days, written notice must be provided to the NTSB on the form linked below. The term "operator" may also include the owner or pilot.
But not every mishap required reporting. You should check with an aviation lawyer before reporting any questionable mishap. The directions provided by 49 CFR 830.2 at the link below may be helpful.
Whether or not an accident is your fault, you are required to report the accident to your aircraft insurer or you may waive your coverage. But wait until you have spoken with an attorney.
As the pilot-in-command, you are legally responsible for the operation of your aircraft. If the PIC causes harm to a passenger, there is not much the pilot can do to prevent civil liability. You may seek the advice of an aviation attorney in your state to see if a waiver can be used to limit your liability to passengers. In most cases, the waiver will not be helpful if the pilot is at fault for a crash. Their usefulness is very dependant on facts and the jurisdiction.
You should maintain a complete set of aircraft and pilot logs to demonstrate compliance with FAR pt. 61 and 91. Make copies of your Airworthiness, Registration, Medical and Pilot's certificates, even though the FAA may not recognize them. Buy as much insurance as you can afford. Maintain currency and keep the aircraft airworthy. If ATC asks to admit to what may amount to an FAR violation, resist the urge to discuss or argue it on the radio.
Quickly hiring an Aviation Attorney when faced with a potential legal problem is important. In aviation matters, early legal representation is akin to "the runway you didn't use" or "the gas you didn't buy." You may not be able to fix things after the fact. Lawyers may be able to avert a problem before it becomes a problem. Waiting too long may limit your rights later.
There are about 100,000 lawyers in Florida. Most do not practice aviation law. I am one of only 37 lawyers in Florida to earn Board Certification in Aviation Law. You should only trust your aircraft case to an expert in Aviation. I have tried aviation cases to juries and judges in federal and state courts and have obtained a large number of aviation verdicts and settlements.
utomobiles & Trucks
Airplane and Airline
Motorcycles, Bicycles & ATVs
Dangerous Drugs &
Unsecured Vicious Animals