AVIATION GROUP OPTIMISTIC ON TORT REFORM MEASURE

AVIATION GROUP OPTIMISTIC ON TORT REFORM MEASURE

An aviation equipment manufacturers' group is optimistic that a aviation tort reform bill approved by a Senate committee will receive congressional approval.

In addition to providing uniform product liability standards for a federally regulated industry, the bill has the support of aviation consumer groups, said Henry M. Ogrodzinski, a spokesman for the General Aviation Manufacturers Association, based in Washington.This effort has the support of the entire general aviation community and we have worked with Congress to make the bill as non-controversial as possible, said Edward W. Stimpson, association president. This is an idea whose time has come and the bills are gaining momentum.

The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee last week approved the General Aviation Accident Liability Standards Act, which will reduce the liability of small aircraft manufacturers for claims arising out of general aviation accidents.

The bill sets federal liability standards for manufacturers of aircraft that seat less than 20 passengers and aircraft that are not flying scheduled passenger routes.

A committee staff member said she expected the bill to be filed with the full Senate for its consideration within two to three weeks. A similar bill reducing aviation manufacturers' liability was approved by the House aviation subcommittee last month.

The commerce committee staff member said the federal law would pre-empt the varying state product liability standards.

Aviation is a federally controlled industry except after an accident, Mr. Ogrodzinski said. Then it's 50 different state courts and 50 different

interpretations of the law.

Although the bill does not impose caps on court awards or limit a plaintiff's right to sue a negligent manufacturer, the measure will help manufacturers control costs by offering protection from unjust and frivolous suits, Mr. Ogrodzinski said.

He added that the measure will not affect a manufacturer's insurance premiums because most manufacturers self-insure for their first $100 million of coverage. He said the move toward self-insurance, which began about 10 years ago, has accelerated in the last three to four years when insurance premiums increased sharply.

The association maintains that the increasing cost of liability awards is behind the sharp drop in the production of small aircraft in the United States. The number of private planes manufactured in the United States has dropped from 18,000 in 1978 to 1,085 last year, Mr. Ogrodzinski said.

Manufacturers can no longer afford to build an aircraft at a price a person can afford, he added.

A major provision in the bill will restrict the doctrine of joint and several liability, which allows an injured person to recover from one of several negligent defendants, regardless of who contributed to the accident.

Mr. Ogrodzinski said the use of the provision allows a court to hold an aircraft manufacturer liable for all damages even if pilot or mechanical error contributed to the accident.