The High Court has ruled that a report into a fatal plane crash produced by the Air Accident Investigation Branch (AAIB) is admissible as evidence in civil proceedings seeking damages for alleged negligence by the pilot.

In Rogers and another v Hoyle [2013] EWHC 1409, Mr Justice Leggatt held that the report of the AAIB, part of the UK’s Department for Transport, contained relevant and potentially important information of direct or indirect relevance to the issues in the civil action and that there was no reason why such relevant evidence should not be admitted.

The claimants were relatives of Mr Orlando Rogers, who died when a Tiger Moth aircraft in which he was a passenger crashed in Dorset. It was alleged that the pilot caused the accident by negligently attempting to perform an acrobatic loop without sufficient training or expertise and at a dangerously low altitude. This was denied by the pilot who said that the rudder pedals had jammed leading to a stall and spin from which he was unable to recover.

The AAIB Report contained statements of fact and opinion, including observations by AAIB inspectors who attended the accident site. It included statements from the pilot about his recollections of the accident and eye witness accounts which described seeing the aircraft loop. The claimants sought to rely on the AAIB Report in their statements of case. The defendant applied for it to be declared inadmissible on the ground that it was opinion evidence.

Leggatt J held that relevance is the paramount consideration in the modern law of evidence and that the evidence in the AAIB Report was of “obvious relevance” to the central issue of negligence in the case. As to the whether the AAIB Report was inadmissible on the ground that it consisted of statements of opinion, Leggatt J said the opinions were those of qualified experts on subjects requiring special expertise which were admissible, in principle.

The case upholds the vital role of AAIB reports in providing an independent determination of the causes of an accident.