The Torts Branch, Aviation and Admiralty Section handles aviation and maritime accident cases and claims. Clients include the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the Army Corps of Engineers, the Coast Guard, the Navy, the Maritime Administration, the Transportation Security Administration, and the Departments of Homeland Security, Transportation, Defense, and Commerce.
The Aviation and Admiralty Section’s aviation litigation arises from the government’s involvement in such activities as air commerce regulation, air traffic control, aviation security, provision of weather services, and aeronautical charting. This litigation is almost exclusively defensive. When aircraft accidents occur, the section handles litigation involving the FAA’s air traffic control and weather dissemination services, as well as its certification of airports, aircraft, and air personnel. The section’s most recent commercial airline case related to Comair flight 5191, which crashed on take-off from Kentucky Bluegrass Airport in August 2006.
In its admiralty practice the Aviation and Admiralty Section represents the United States in the government’s role as ship-owner, regulator, and protector of the nation’s waterways and maritime resources. Its admiralty litigation concerns collisions involving U.S. vessels, grounding of vessels while using U.S. government-produced charts, challenges to the boarding of vessels on the high seas during national security and drug interdiction activities, and maritime aspects of pollution incidents at sea. Affirmative admiralty actions seek compensation for the loss of government cargo; damage to locks, dams, and natural resources; and the costs associated with maritime pollution cleanups. The section is currently involved with the major spill incident stemming from the explosion on and loss of the mobile drilling rig DEEPWATER HORIZON off the Louisiana coast.
The Aviation and Admiralty Section is headquartered in Washington, DC. However, the section maintains a field office in San Francisco, CA, which is the location of a dense client and maritime activity cluster. The field office is staffed with both civilian and Coast Guard attorneys and support personnel. It handles myriad maritime matters spanning the Pacific Basin, from the major grounding and resulting oil spill of the GLACIER BAY, in Alaska, to the M/V YM PROSPERITY’s loss of containers in the Monterrey Bay National Marine Sanctuary.