Legislature(2003 - 2004)
03/31/2004 01:20 PM JUD
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
HB 474 - LIABILITY FOR AIRPORTS AND AIRSTRIPS Number 0140 CHAIR McGUIRE announced that the first order of business would be HOUSE BILL NO. 474, "An Act relating to civil liability associated with aircraft runways, airfields, and landing areas." [Before the committee was the proposed committee substitute (CS) for HB 474, Version 23-LS1745\D, Bullock, 3/23/04, which was adopted as a work draft on 3/26/04; on 3/26/04 an Amendment 1 to Version D was adopted, but at the request of Amendment 1's sponsor, the committee, later in the meeting on 3/26/04, rescinded its action in adopting Amendment 1.] REPRESENTATIVE HOLM, speaking as the sponsor, noted that he has a proposed amendment for HB 474, a new Amendment 1, labeled 23- LS1745\D.1, Bullock, 3/31/04, which read: Page 1, line 6: Delete "A [NATURAL]" Insert "Except as provided in (c) of this section, a [A NATURAL]" Page 2, following line 9: Insert a new bill section to read: "* Sec. 2. AS 09.65.093 is amended by adding a new subsection to read: (c) The immunity from civil liability under (a) of this section does not apply to an owner or operator of an aircraft runway, airfield, or landing area with respect to the provider of flight services under contract with the owner or operator." Number 0185 REPRESENTATIVE HOLM said he would like to "put ... forward" Amendment 1 because it addresses one of the issues raised at the bill's last hearing. CHAIR McGUIRE, after ascertaining that no one wished to testify on the bill and that a representative from the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) was available to answer questions, closed public testimony on HB 474. REPRESENTATIVE GRUENBERG said he has an amendment to Amendment 1 that will clarify Amendment 1. REPRESENTATIVE HOLM said that Amendment 1 would address the issue of whether someone who contracts another to land on an airfield would be given immunity from liability. He added that Amendment 1 proposes to "fix" this issue. He asked Representative Samuels to comment. REPRESENTATIVE SAMUELS said that his concern is that there are a few airports that contract flying and he wanted to exclude from the bill some of the larger runways. He noted that HB 474 does not propose to change any of the standards already in current law with regard to gross negligence, recklessness, or intentional misconduct. REPRESENTATIVE GARA pointed out that current law already exempts owners of private airstrips who "run them voluntarily for no money" unless they engage in exceptionally bad conduct such as gross negligence, recklessness, or intentional misconduct. The bill, he surmised, will extend that exemption from liability to businesses that run airstrips, adding that he does have a problem with doing such unless the scope of the bill is very limited. He offered his belief that Amendment 1 will protect airplane companies that contract with the owners of an airfield, but will not protect people. REPRESENTATIVE GARA, to illustrate his point, offered the following hypothetical: "What if you're being flown into a ... fishing lodge ... and you've arranged your own flight service in ...?" If for some reason a massive ditch has been dug across the runway that the lodge owner is purportedly maintaining, neither the person nor the flight company would know about that hazard. In such a situation, neither the person flying in to use the lodge nor the airplane company have a contract with the lodge, and so would not be able to seek civil damages under Amendment 1. He opined that both the bill and Amendment 1 are flawed in this regard. Number 0595 REPRESENTATIVE GARA offered what he termed a friendly amendment to Amendment 1, to add at the end of Amendment 1, the words, "or passenger" for the purpose of protecting not just the airplane carrier but the passengers on the airplane carrier. CHAIR McGUIRE announced that HB 474 would be set aside [with the amendment to Amendment 1 left pending] for the purpose of hearing the next [three bills]. [HB 474 was taken up again later in the meeting.] HB 474 - LIABILITY FOR AIRPORTS AND AIRSTRIPS Number 0555 CHAIR McGUIRE announced that the committee would return to the hearing on HOUSE BILL NO. 474, "An Act relating to civil liability associated with aircraft runways, airfields, and landing areas." CHAIR McGUIRE remarked that Representative [Holm] had offered Amendment 1 [text provided during the first portion of today's hearing on HB 474], and that Representative Gara had an amendment to Amendment 1. Number 0627 REPRESENTATIVE GARA again offered the amendment to Amendment 1, to add at the end of Amendment 1, after "operator", the words, "or passenger". Number 0630 REPRESENTATIVE HOLM objected. REPRESENTATIVE GARA said that Amendment 1 as written does not afford protection to passengers - for example, if the owner of an airstrip dug a ditch across it and didn't tell anybody even though he/she knew a passenger was flying in - and the amendment to Amendment 1 would do just that. REPRESENTATIVE HOLM offered his understanding that passengers would be protected because they are covered by the air carrier they are using. REPRESENTATIVE GARA argued, however, that an air carrier's liability insurance would only protect a passenger if the air carrier was negligent, but not if the owner of the airstrip did something to cause a mishap, like dig a ditch across the airstrip without telling anybody. REPRESENTATIVE HOLM opined that a good pilot wouldn't land on an airstrip that had a ditch dug across it. CHAIR McGUIRE invited the representative from the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) to comment. Number 0845 TOM GEORGE, Alaska Regional Representative, Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA), said: "The original clause in this bill should protect the passengers. Again, if there is a ditch dug across the airport, then the airport operator is grossly negligent, and I think that's ... a fairly balanced protection, both for the consumer and for the person who's trying to operate the airport." REPRESENTATIVE GRUENBERG asked that the amendment to Amendment 1 be amended such that the words "or to a passenger" would be added after "provider of flight services". REPRESENTATIVE GARA opined that such a change doesn't make sense. REPRESENTATIVE OGG mentioned the lack of a relationship between the owner/operator and the passenger. REPRESENTATIVE GARA, upon further consideration, agreed to accept Representative Gruenberg's suggestion on the condition that he restate it. Number 0979 REPRESENTATIVE GRUENBERG made a motion, then, to amend the amendment to Amendment 1 such that after "provider of flight services", the words "[or] to a passenger" are added. REPRESENTATIVE GARA indicated that he would accept that change. Number 1027 REPRESENTATIVE HOLM withdrew his objection [to the amendment to Amendment 1]. CHAIR McGUIRE stated that the amendment to Amendment 1 has been adopted, and that Amendment 1, as amended, is now before the committee. REPRESENTATIVE GRUENBERG said he has a second amendment to Amendment 1 [as amended]. The committee took an at-ease from 3:15 p.m. to 3:17 p.m. Number 1103 REPRESENTATIVE HOLM withdrew Amendment 1 [as amended]. Number 1113 REPRESENTATIVE GRUENBERG made a motion to adopt Amendment 2, which was labeled 23-LS1745\D.1, Bullock, 3/31/04; contained handwritten changes; and read: Page 1, line 6: Delete "A [NATURAL]" Insert "Except as provided in (c) of this section, a [A NATURAL]" Page 2, following line 9: Insert a new bill section to read: "* Sec. 2. AS 09.65.093 is amended by adding a new subsection to read: (c) The immunity from civil liability under (a) of this section does not limit the liability of an owner or operator of an aircraft runway, airfield, or landing area to a provider of flight services under contract with the owner or operator." REPRESENTATIVE GRUENBERG said he would also like to amend Amendment 2, to add, after "provider of flight services", the words, "and its passengers". [Although no motion was made to amend Amendment 2, it was treated as amended.] Number 1178 CHAIR McGUIRE asked whether there were any objections to Amendment 2 [as amended]. There being none, Amendment 2, as amended, was adopted. REPRESENTATIVE GARA, referring to HB 474, said that he is still not sure who this liability limitation is being extended to that is not already covered by current law. He also said: It was okay when it was people who ... operate an airstrip voluntarily, but now it's not just people - it's also businesses. And I do have a problem with that. If we want to extend the immunity to people who do things voluntarily, that's okay. If we want to extend it to sort of nonprofit associations or voluntary, that's okay. But to the extent we're starting to extend it to profit-making businesses, I've got a problem with the bill. Number 1200 REPRESENTATIVE SAMUELS moved to report the proposed committee substitute (CS) for HB 474, Version 23-LS1745\D, Bullock, 3/23/04, as amended, out of committee with individual recommendations and the accompanying fiscal notes. There being no objection, CSHB 474(JUD) was reported from the House Judiciary Standing Committee.