What should I do if I am contacted during the moratorium period following an airplane accident?
UPDATED: April 3, 2011
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Your right to privacy, especially in the context of an aviation disaster, is protected by federal law. The Family Aviation Disaster Act provides some of the grounds for you to sue if you receive unwanted and illegal contacts from airline lawyers, employees, or others within the 30-day moratorium period. Many states have also passed similar laws to support this.
Starting from the day of an aviation disaster, there are limits on the ability of lawyers to contact survivors or the families of crash victims. This rule includes lawyers, their staff, or their representatives. The rule may also cover pictorial advertising: billboards placed near accident scenes may violate the rule, too.
Unsolicited communication by lawyers goes against many state bar rules as well as federal laws. Unsolicited communication includes letters from lawyers representing the airline, and lawyers seeking to represent you...these contacts are usually inappropriate, and should be reported to the appropriate state bar association. Try to keep records of these contacts: proof of their occurrence may be necessary if you decide to sue later.
Depending on your state of residence, some kinds of lawyer communications will be allowed, but don't worry: most lawyers adhere to the rules prohibiting contact with aviation disaster victims' families during the moratorium. If you are concerned about your rights during this period, or you feel your rights have been violated, you should seek out your own attorney as soon as possible. A lawyer who specializes in aviation law or legal ethics (malpractice) can be of great assistance. S/he can also give you an idea of your chances of success should you decide to sue the offending party.
Legality of the Moratorium
The reason for the 30-day law is to protect people in an obviously horrific time. But creating such a limitation creates freedom of speech issues. Whether the Constitution allows the government to single out a group and create these restrictions on advertising, solicitation, etc. is an unresolved issue - even for lawyers. In general, courts have said that a 30-day moratorium is legal, just as long as the moratorium is reasonable and detailed. This is where state bar associations come into play: these are lawyers watching out for other lawyers' ethical violations and heavily discouraging them. In Florida, for instance, the attorneys' bar association there has been very active in stopping contact and enforcing the state's version of the 30-day moratorium.