Sen. Nancy Landon Kassebaum, R-Kan., on Tuesday continued her eight-year quest to have the full Senate vote on reforming general aviation product liability law and got closer than ever to that goal.
This time, she offered the measure as an amendment to a high-technology subsidy bill introduced by Sen. Ernest Hollings, D-S.C., who chairs the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.Sen. Hollings is a fierce opponent of limiting lawsuits against aircraft manufacturers, but Sen. Kassebaum may have maneuvered him into a corner. She called for a vote on her amendment before Sen. Hollings began his floor statement against it. Unless opponents of the reform effort come up with a parliamentary counterattack, Sen. Hollings will have to either accept a vote on the Kassebaum amendment or endanger his entire high-tech competitiveness bill.
By mid-day, the chamber had debated for several hours the pros and cons of ending aircraft manufacturers liability after a 15-year period, but it was not yet clear when or if a vote would follow.
Sen. Kassebaum told the Senate that product liability costs were destroying the U.S. small-plane manufacturing industry. The 1993 version of general aviation product liability is a much more streamlined bill than in previous years. It contains a single provision: The bill would institute a 15-year statute of repose, or limitations, on civil actions brought against aircraft manufacturers or makers of aircraft parts if the plane was inspected and in compliance with federal safety regulations during that 15-year period.
Sen. Slade Gorton, R-Wash., said lawsuits have destroyed thousands of jobs in the last decade. Sen. Gorton cited reports of the National Transportation Safety Board on 203 general aviation accidents. In those accidents, the NTSB found that the aircraft was not at fault in causing the accidents, yet manufacturers paid an average of $540,000 in legal judgments.
U.S. aviation manufacturers have said that excessive insurance costs have impaired their competitiveness, and underwriters favor limits to minimize their payouts in suits against product manufacturers they have insured.