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Settlement Reached in Wyoming Plane Crash Suit

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By Brett Snider, Esq. on November 19, 2013 3:54 PM

A settlement was reached in a case against the FAA and an air traffic control staffer in early November, wrapping up claims for a man whose plane crashed into a Wyoming mountain range in 2010.

According to The Associated Press, Luke Bucklin, 41, was piloting a plane from Jackson Hole airport when his plane crashed in the Equality State's Wind River Range in October 2010, killing himself and his three teenage boys.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) was never part of any suit, yet both parties have agreed to settle with Bucklin's estate.

Claims Air Traffic Control at Fault

Bucklin's estate filed in Cheyenne federal court in October 2012, against Serco, the company which had staffed the air traffic controller responsible for guiding Bucklin on the day of the crash. The suit alleged that the air traffic controller approved clearance at an unsafe altitude, which lead to the fatal crash in the Wind River Range.

The Tenth Circuit is not terribly friendly to negligent pilots, but Bucklin's case seemed a bit more sympathetic than your average alcoholic flyboy (or Denzel Washington in "Flight").

The case was dismissed in early November when the parties reached a global settlement between Bucklin's estate, his children's estates, the Federal Aviation Administration, and Serco for an undisclosed amount. The AP reports that the DOJ is "still working to get final approval and payment of the FAA settlement."

The plaintiffs had also filed administrative claims with the FAA, which spokeswoman Allison Price confirmed on Monday had been settled.

Filing Claims Against the FAA

Though the FAA often provides a basic standard for injury suits against air carriers and pilots, in crash cases, it is not uncommon for plaintiffs to file against the FAA.

As with most federal agencies, the FAA can be sued by way of the Federal Tort Claims Act, giving the Administration a 6 month head start on resolving the administrative claim before any federal civil suit can be filed.

Luckily for practitioners representing injury and wrongful death claimants of the future, there is a nifty online form provided by the DOJ to get the ball rolling on your administrative claim with the FAA. For injuries or even deaths, this administrative claim must include a written physicians report and an itemized list of medical/funeral expenses.

For wrongful death claims, the relevant federal regulations require:

  • Authenticated death certificate
  • Decedent's employment history
  • Survivor information (names, addresses, date of birth, etc.)
  • Degree of support to survivor dependents
  • Decedent's condition prior to death

The FAA is also authorized to direct other federal agencies to do its investigating -- likely through the DOJ -- even with regard to physically examining the claimant. Attorneys may need to prepare their clients for an intrusive government investigation if the claims are especially messy.

For the surviving Bucklin family, the AP reports that counsel for Bucklin's estate verified the settlement was "substantial" and hopefully goes a long way toward healing their losses.

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