How do I obtain a death certificate for a family member lost in an aviation accident?
UPDATED: December 17, 2019
It’s all about you. We want to help you make the right legal decisions.
We strive to help you make confident law decisions. Finding trusted and reliable legal advice should be easy. This doesn't influence our content. Our opinions are our own.
Obtaining a death certificate for a loved one killed in an aviation accident can be a very difficult process. Legally, the death certificate cannot be issued until the body is identified, and this is not possible in all cases. If it is possible, the local medical examiner in the area where the crash took place will be in charge of that process, and s/he will be responsible for providing you with the certificate when your loved one has officially been identified. The amount of time this might take can vary greatly depending on the nature of the airplane crash, the number of victims, and the size and efficiency of the medical examiner's office.
Identifications in an Airplane Crash
In a situation where a passenger cannot be identified after the crash (and where in effect there is no body for analysis), getting a death certificate becomes very complicated. Some people mistakenly assume that, in this situation, the “seven-year” rule might apply: this rule states that when a person goes missing, they must be missing for seven years before being legally declared dead. This is not the case in a situation where it's known the person is dead, but their remains cannot be recovered. However, there is still going to be a long process and a wait time.
Essentially, the first step is to handle the legal red tape. The medical examiner will have to legally prove that all possible attempts to identify the bodies occurred and failed; and the courts will have to determine that your loved one was on the flight. In other words, all legal and practical avenues have to be checked off the list. Only at that time could you be issued a death certificate.
Getting Help - Aviation Accidents
It can be immensely helpful to hire an experienced lawyer should you find yourself in this type of holding pattern. A lawyer can help advocate for your rights and keep the process moving. Waiting for a death certificate can be emotionally and financially devastating for a number of reasons, and an experienced lawyer will help ensure the situation is resolved as soon as possible.