Pennsylvania Record

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Philadelphia law firm sues NTSB, says withholding of crash investigation records constitutes FOIA violations

Lawsuits

By Nicholas Malfitano | Apr 19, 2019


PHILADELPHIA – A Philadelphia law firm has sued the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and alleged the government organization has illegally withheld information and evidence from families and loved ones of multiple crash accident victims, in violation of the Freedom of Information Act.

The Wolk Law Firm (a.k.a. “Arthur Alan Wolk Associates”) of Philadelphia filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania on April 2 versus the United States of America/NTSB of Washington, D.C.

The plaintiff firm is “routinely retained to investigate aircraft accident investigations, and to pursue legal remedies for its clients.”

The lawsuit refers to the NTSB investigations surrounding several matters, including those for the following estates and individuals: Berke Morgan Bates and Henry John Cullen III; Christopher Freeman Byrd, Phillip Armstrong Byrd and Grady G. Byrd III; Lauren Johnson Chase; Arrin Farrar; Troy L. Gentry; William Gordon; Robert and Brenda Hinkle; John Michael and Dawn Skinner; Ryan Lee McCall; Gerald and Diane Stubbs; Gregory Torres; Diana Soto, Evelyn Walker and James Walker.

“The NTSB is charged with the investigation of civil aviation accidents. The NTSB, according to its own regulation, takes custody of aircraft wreckage and other evidence, including photographic evidence, videos, notes, witness statements and other information after an accident. The NTSB is charged to perform any inspection, examination or test promptly, and to make the results available,” per the lawsuit.

However, the suit alleges the NTSB instead relies upon manufacturers of civil aircraft and aircraft components to provide technical expertise and help it complete crash investigations – but furthermore, that this relationship has created a situation where these same manufacturers received unfettered access to and editorial control over crash investigation materials and evidence, the very same access which has been denied to victims of aviation crashes, their loved ones and representative agents. The suit says this constitutes a violation of the Freedom of Information Act.

“The NTSB has withheld critical information, including accident wreckage, videos of the flight, flight performance data, photographs of the investigation, correspondence with the manufacturers and other documents which available to the manufacturers, but not to the victims up to, or even past the statute of limitations,” the lawsuit says.

“Plaintiff brings this actions on behalf of accident victims and their families, who have been prevented access to wreckage, critical documents, data and evidence of plane crashes that have resulted in severe injury or death, and the NTSB has continually denied access to any remedy.”

Counsel for the plaintiff did not respond to a request for comment from the Pennsylvania Record.

In a separate lawsuit, last week U.S. District Court Judge Eduardo C. Robreno found that Freedom of Information Act exemptions apply to the NTSB’s refusal to provide document and video evidence in a crash investigation involving Don and Ingrid Goldstein.

However, Robreno also found the NTSB provided “no justification to withhold information regarding the Goldstein aircraft wreckage, or the wreckage itself if the NTSB still has it," thereby granting the NTSB’s motion for summary judgment as to the aforementioned documents and videos, but also ordering the NTSB to “produce chain-of-custody information about the wreckage or make the wreckage available for inspection.”

For counts of obstruction of justice and violation of due process, violation of 14 C.F.R. Section 837.4 and violation of the Freedom of Information Act, the plaintiff is seeking an order compelling the NTSB to release any and all documents, data and evidence that relates to the crash complained of herein, and such other and further relief as the Court may deem just and proper.

The plaintiff is represented by Cynthia Marie Devers of The Wolk Law Firm, in Philadelphia.

U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania case 2:19-cv-01401

From the Pennsylvania Record: Reach Courts Reporter Nicholas Malfitano at nick.malfitano@therecordinc.com

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