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Ala. limits aircraft lawsuits; law keyed to Airbus

Phillip Rawls, Associated Press

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) -- In an effort to ensure that Airbus aircraft suppliers move to Alabama and not neighboring states, Alabama leaders have enacted a new law putting a time limit on lawsuits against the airplane manufacturer and its suppliers.

The Alabama Senate gave final approval to the legislation on Thursday, 27-0, and Gov. Robert Bentley quickly signed it into law.

The new law limits lawsuits against a plane's manufacturer and suppliers to causes of action arising within 12 years after a plane is delivered. Until now, proponents said, the time had been unlimited.

The bill is tailored for the new Airbus plant in Mobile because it applies only to commercial planes with at least 100 seats. Bentley recruited Airbus last year with $158 million in cash, tax breaks and other incentives. The groundbreaking is set for Monday. The $600 million plant is expected to employ 1,000.

Bentley said 3,700 more jobs could be created by companies supplying products to the plant. The governor visited Europe four months ago to talk to potential suppliers about locating plants in Alabama. After that visit, he said Mississippi and Florida had stricter litigation laws than Alabama, and they were using that to recruit suppliers because both states are near Mobile.

"Without this bill, suppliers could very easily choose to build in Florida or Mississippi, which already have similar laws," Bentley said Thursday. "With this legislation, Alabama is now on a level playing field, and we can recruit more supplier jobs for people in our state."

In addition to limiting lawsuits to 12 years after a plane is delivered, the legislation requires a person to sue within two years after a cause of action arises. That two-year period extends from the last day of the 12-year limit. The bill also makes it harder for out-of-state residents to sue Airbus and the suppliers in Alabama if the issue that triggered the lawsuit occurred elsewhere.

Alabama's agreement with Airbus for the Mobile plant required state officials to do their best to pass the legislation. The bill was a compromise worked out with plaintiff lawyers. It moved through the House and Senate without a negative vote.

So far, Alabama has landed one Airbus supplier, Safran Engineering Services, which plans to employ 30 to 50 people in an engineering supporting facility in Mobile.