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Washington Outlook: Capital Wrapup
Facing Administration indifference and the hostility of key lawmakers, the campaign to reform product-liability laws is languishing on Capitol Hill. But one sector of manufacturing may be about to get relief from damage suits that can crop up many years after a product is built and sold. Pending legislation, which passed the Senate on a 91-8 vote on Mar. 16, would limit the liability of aircraft manufacturers to 18 years after a plane is delivered. This so-called "statute of repose" has been reposing on the Hill for eight years. But with the backing of companies and unions, it now enjoys broad support in the House. More important, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jack Brooks (D-Tex.), long a foe of product-liability reform, is prepared to let this narrow measure move forward. Trial lawyers are worried that the bill could be the camel's nose in the product-liability tent, but its progress may have more to do with the desperate state of the U.S. general aviation industry than with a congressional change of heart on the larger issue.