The Aviation, Space & Admiralty Litigation Section of the Torts Branch handles aviation, space, and maritime cases and claims. Our clients include the Federal Aviation Administration, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, all military services including the Navy and the Coast Guard, the Maritime Administration, the Transportation Security Administration, NASA, NSA, and the Departments of State, Interior, Transportation, and Commerce.
Our Section’s aviation practice is largely comprised of suits defending the United States in wrongful death, serious personal injury, and extensive property damage actions arising from aircraft accidents. Federal activities giving rise to these lawsuits include air traffic control, military aviation operations, weather dissemination, charting of obstacles, operation of navigational aids, and certification of aircraft, airports, and air personnel. Since its establishment, the Section has litigated all commercial airline accident cases involving the United States, the most recent being Continental Airlines flight 1404, which crashed during takeoff from Denver. The Section is also responsible for litigation arising from space launch or space vehicle incidents and handled litigation and claims arising from the Space Shuttle Columbia and Challenger disasters.
In its admiralty practice, the 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 and warships, 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-based pollution incidents, including vessel oil spills. 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 assumed the lead role in the liability trial arising from the explosion on the mobile drilling rig DEEPWATER HORIZON and resulting oil spill. It also is engaged in litigation activities arising from two separate collisions involving U.S. warships. Both occurred in 2017 when the USS JOHN S. McCAIN collided with a Liberian flagged/Greek operated tanker near the entrance to the Straits of Malacca, and the USS FITZGERALD and ACX CRYSTAL collided offshore Japan.
The Aviation, Space & Admiralty Section is headquartered in Washington, D.C. The Section also maintains a field office in San Francisco, which 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.