Legislature(2003 - 2004)

04/06/2004 01:50 PM JUD

Audio Topic
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
HB 549 - UNSOLICITED COMMUNICATION:AIRCRAFT CRASH                                                                             
                                                                                                                                
Number 0077                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
CHAIR McGUIRE  announced that the  first order of  business would                                                               
be  HOUSE  BILL   NO.  549,  "An  Act   relating  to  unsolicited                                                               
communications following an aircraft  accident; and amending Rule                                                               
503, Alaska Rules of Evidence."                                                                                                 
                                                                                                                                
Number 0120                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
VANESSA  TONDINI, Staff  to Representative  Lesil McGuire,  House                                                               
Judiciary   Standing   Committee,   Alaska   State   Legislature,                                                               
presented  HB  549 on  behalf  of  the House  Judiciary  Standing                                                               
Committee,  sponsor.   Calling  it  is  a good,  straightforward,                                                               
"anti-ambulance  chaser  bill"  that  regulates  the  conduct  of                                                               
attorneys, Ms.  Tondini said  it mirrors  what is  currently done                                                               
under the Alaska  Rules of Professional Conduct  and federal law.                                                               
It basically says an attorney  cannot solicit business or contact                                                               
individuals for 45 days after an aviation accident.                                                                             
                                                                                                                                
Number 0201                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE  HOLM  moved  to   adopt  the  proposed  committee                                                               
substitute  (CS)  for  HB   549,  Version  23-LS1860\D,  Bullock,                                                               
4/1/04, as  a work draft.   There  being no objection,  Version D                                                               
was before the committee.                                                                                                       
                                                                                                                                
MS.  TONDINI   explained  that  the  original   bill  included  a                                                               
reference to  the attorney-client  privilege.   At such  an early                                                               
stage  of communication,  however,  there  is no  attorney-client                                                               
privilege in effect,  so that reference was removed  in Version D                                                               
after review of the bill and discussions with other attorneys.                                                                  
                                                                                                                                
MS. TONDINI noted  that while HB 549 is based  on federal law, it                                                               
applies  only  to intrastate  flights  that  take place  entirely                                                               
within Alaska.   It differs from the federal  counterpart in that                                                               
a reference to the air carrier's  attorney has been added to make                                                               
it  clear that  all  attorneys are  to  refrain from  unsolicited                                                               
contact with  injured passengers  and their families  during this                                                               
difficult  time when  they are  vulnerable to  external pressures                                                               
and  may  make  premature  decisions.   The  bill  only  prevents                                                               
lawyers and  their agents from  initiating contact; a  person may                                                               
call an attorney at any time.   Thus Ms. Tondini opined that this                                                               
doesn't hinder a person's ability  to get effective assistance or                                                               
counsel.   Noting  that people  on  teleconference could  provide                                                               
greater detail, she offered to answer questions.                                                                                
                                                                                                                                
Number 0358                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE GARA  remarked that the  intent seems fine  of not                                                               
having an  attorney seek these  clients, but the bill  as written                                                               
seems to  go beyond that.   He explained two concerns.   First, a                                                               
person  might  want the  attorney  he/she  hired  to be  able  to                                                               
contact  a witness  - who  may be  an individual  injured in  the                                                               
accident -  for confirmation.   Second, if a potential  party may                                                               
not contact  an individual  injured in  the accident,  that means                                                               
someone may  not speak about  [a potential action] to  the person                                                               
who was  sitting in the adjacent  seat, for example, in  order to                                                               
decide how to proceed.  He asked why that should be included.                                                                   
                                                                                                                                
CHAIR McGUIRE  suggested the first  part could be narrowed  as to                                                               
the potential  party to say  something like "unless  the attorney                                                               
has been voluntarily contacted by  a claimant" and that the party                                                               
is a part of the [incident], for example.                                                                                       
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE  GARA,  in  response   to  a  request  from  Chair                                                               
McGuire, reiterated his second concern.                                                                                         
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE SAMUELS agreed with  respect to the second concern                                                               
and allowing  passengers to  talk with  each other.   As  for the                                                               
first  concern,  he urged  caution,  since  a lawyer  who'd  been                                                               
contacted by one  person would be the only lawyer  who could then                                                               
call everybody else.                                                                                                            
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE GARA  noted that  it would  still be  criminal for                                                               
that lawyer to ask, "By the way, can I represent you?"                                                                          
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE SAMUELS mentioned connecting the dots, though.                                                                   
                                                                                                                                
MS. TONDINI explained  that the language is based  on the federal                                                               
law, which includes both an attorney and a potential party.                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
Number 0645                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
CHAIR  McGUIRE asked  whether this  is identical  to the  federal                                                               
language.                                                                                                                       
                                                                                                                                
MS. TONDINI replied, "Except that  it's expanded to cover the air                                                               
carrier's  attorney."   She noted  that the  federal law  and the                                                               
language of the  Alaska Rules of Professional Conduct  are in the                                                               
bill packet.  Addressing Representative  Gara's concern about the                                                               
breadth,   she  suggested   possibly   including  language   from                                                               
Rule 7.3(a)  and  narrowing  it to  situations  of  solicitation,                                                               
rather than  actual working relationships.   Ms. Tondini surmised                                                               
that one reason  for saying someone shouldn't be  contacted by an                                                               
attorney  might  be that  once  a  person  is represented  by  an                                                               
attorney,  it  is illegal  to  go  through  that person  and  not                                                               
his/her lawyer.   Since there will be a time  during which people                                                               
won't  be represented,  she suggested  this  will "keep  everyone                                                               
away"  until  they  take  it   upon  themselves  to  seek  [legal                                                               
counsel].                                                                                                                       
                                                                                                                                
CHAIR McGUIRE  remarked that  45 days  is a  fairly insignificant                                                               
amount of  time to ask  somebody to  wait and have  a cooling-off                                                               
period when compared with the years  such a case could take.  She                                                               
indicated her  intention to  look at narrowing  it a  little bit,                                                               
but  added that  there  still  probably will  "be  a place  where                                                               
there's  a rub"  because of  the concerns  Representative Samuels                                                               
had brought up.                                                                                                                 
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE  SAMUELS   suggested  [a  plaintiff]   who  wanted                                                               
his/her  attorney  to talk  to  other  passengers could  ask  the                                                               
passengers to talk to the attorney.   He said it wouldn't be fair                                                               
to a  reputable attorney  who follows the  45-day rule,  which is                                                               
the federal standard, to "let somebody in the back door here."                                                                  
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE GARA said there are  two different issues.  First,                                                               
in  any involved  case  it is  necessary  to start  investigating                                                               
right  away in  order to  gather facts,  find people  before they                                                               
leave the state,  avoid having stale evidence, and so  forth.  As                                                               
for having  an attorney contact  a witness  who then wants  to be                                                               
represented  by  the  attorney,  Representative  Gara  said  that                                                               
happens now.   He clarified  that he has  no problem making  it a                                                               
crime for  an attorney  to solicit a  client, especially  in this                                                               
timeframe, but  emphasized the need  to avoid getting in  the way                                                               
of  someone  to  be  represented  and  have  fact  finding  done.                                                               
Second, he said  he doesn't understand the policy  of not letting                                                               
a potential party talk to another passenger for 45 days.                                                                        
                                                                                                                                
Number 0928                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE  GRUENBERG remarked  that he  sees nothing  in the                                                               
federal law that  has a criminal penalty anything like  this.  He                                                               
asked Ms. Tondini about it.                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
MS. TONDINI replied that she  believes the state criminal penalty                                                               
was chosen  "just for  teeth" in enforcement.   She  conveyed her                                                               
understanding that  it's not  enforced very  much on  the federal                                                               
level and is a small civil fine.                                                                                                
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE GRUENBERG said it's $1,000 a day.                                                                                
                                                                                                                                
MS. TONDINI responded, "They shouldn't be doing it anyway."                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
CHAIR  McGUIRE highlighted  the desire  for a  meaningful penalty                                                               
and said  the amount  [attorneys] could  get in  contingency fees                                                               
could be  high enough that they'd  pay a $10,000 penalty  with no                                                               
problem, as  part of doing business.   She said the  point of the                                                               
criminal penalty is  that it's recognized by the bar  in terms of                                                               
retaining a license.   She expressed the desire for  this to have                                                               
teeth and not be a cost  that's simply absorbed [by the offending                                                               
attorney].                                                                                                                      
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE  GRUENBERG  asked  whether   there  has  been  any                                                               
constitutional challenge at the federal level.                                                                                  
                                                                                                                                
MS.  TONDINI said  she  wasn't sure,  but  suggested somebody  on                                                               
teleconference might be able to answer.                                                                                         
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE GRUENBERG remarked  that he sees one  or two minor                                                               
problems with this.                                                                                                             
                                                                                                                                
Number 1052                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE  GARA proposed  having  the bill  read as  follows                                                               
beginning on line 6 [page 1]:                                                                                                   
                                                                                                                                
     ...  an  attorney  may not  initiate  contact  with  an                                                                    
     individual injured in the accident  or a relative of an                                                                    
     individual  involved  in  the   accident  to  offer  or                                                                    
     discuss  representation  based   on  the  accident  for                                                                    
     personal  injury or  wrongful death  within 45  days of                                                                    
     the accident.                                                                                                              
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE GARA explained that  the foregoing would [exclude]                                                               
"potential  party" and  replace "concerning  a potential  action"                                                               
with  "to   offer  or  discuss  representation   based  upon  the                                                               
accident".                                                                                                                      
                                                                                                                                
CHAIR McGUIRE turned to public testimony.                                                                                       
                                                                                                                                
Number 1127                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
MARCIA  R.  DAVIS,  Vice  President   and  General  Counsel,  Era                                                               
Aviation,    Inc.   ("Era"),    indicated   the    proposal   [by                                                               
Representative Gara] is exactly what  she'd suggest.  She pointed                                                               
out  that  under  the  federal  law where  it  has  the  language                                                               
"potential party", the reference was  intended to capture the air                                                               
carrier.   However,  the  state bill  goes  further by  including                                                               
language  that  prohibits contact  by  an  attorney for  the  air                                                               
carrier.  Thus she said "or potential party" is not needed.                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
MS. DAVIS  referred to comments  by Representative Gara  that one                                                               
wouldn't  want  to prohibit  an  attorney  from contacting  other                                                               
witnesses  or  gathering facts.    Saying  this is  a  legitimate                                                               
concern,  she  suggested  that deleting  "or  potential  parties"                                                               
solves that problem  and yet still bars the attorney  for the air                                                               
carrier  from  contacting  individuals.     She  added  that  the                                                               
language  just  proposed  about retention  for  employment  works                                                               
extremely well also.                                                                                                            
                                                                                                                                
MS.  DAVIS  spoke   to  the  overall  bill,   saying  ERA's  Bush                                                               
operations  out of  Bethel have  run very  smoothly, with  a good                                                               
relationship with  passengers, management  by people who  live in                                                               
Bethel,  and little  difficulty; in  the  last year  and a  half,                                                               
however,  there  has  been  evidence  that  people  are  creating                                                               
"nuisance  lawsuits"   in  situations  that   previously  weren't                                                               
litigable.  She said it's almost  a cottage industry in the Bush,                                                               
with attorneys  advising people in  the immediate  aftermath when                                                               
they hear that a plane landed  just short of the runway and there                                                               
was a bump, for example; they  plant ideas in the minds of people                                                               
who otherwise wouldn't have thought about suing.                                                                                
                                                                                                                                
MS. DAVIS said these lawsuits are  beginning to be a real problem                                                               
for  insurers; they  take away  attention from  legitimate claims                                                               
and affect  the willingness to  do business.   Unfortunately, the                                                               
teeth in  the mechanisms to  prevent this behavior  aren't there.                                                               
The ethics  rules have  a lot of  "wiggle room,"  particularly in                                                               
small  communities  where  people   can  claim  they're  personal                                                               
friends  or connected  to the  families somehow.   Likewise,  she                                                               
said,  the  federal law  has  been  virtually useless,  since  it                                                               
requires the  NTSB [National Transportation Safety  Board] or the                                                               
U.S.  Attorney General  to issue  a citation;  it simply  doesn't                                                               
happen in  Alaska's intrastate environment.   Even if substantial                                                               
resources were expended,  she suggested the $1,000  fine would be                                                               
laughed at and considered the cost of doing business.                                                                           
                                                                                                                                
MS. DAVIS  opined that this is  an important statement to  make -                                                               
not only  to the  community at  large and  lawyers at  large, but                                                               
also to  insurers, to let  them know an  effort is being  made to                                                               
keep  costs rational  but fair.   Ms.  Davis reported  that she'd                                                               
seen no  cases on  the federal  side challenging  this particular                                                               
statute, which  was passed as  part of the aviation  disaster and                                                               
family assistance Act and is imbedded  in an NTSB provision.  She                                                               
noted that  there was a  sting operation on lawyers  done perhaps                                                               
15  years  ago  in  the   aftermath  of  these  accidents,  which                                                               
culminated in passage of the federal law.                                                                                       
                                                                                                                                
Number 1411                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE  SAMUELS   declared  a  conflict,  saying   he  is                                                               
employed by a small air carrier.                                                                                                
                                                                                                                                
CHAIR  McGUIRE objected,  specifying that  Representative Samuels                                                               
is required to participate and vote.                                                                                            
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE  GARA asked  Ms.  Davis if  attorneys are  calling                                                               
people and asking whether they want to sue.                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
MS. DAVIS answered  that they're actually going  to the hospital.                                                               
Whenever  there is  a  bump, for  example,  Era [encourages]  the                                                               
passengers to go to the health center as a prophylactic measure.                                                                
                                                                                                                                
[Chair McGuire turned the gavel over to Vice Chair Anderson.]                                                                   
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE  GARA  remarked  that  assuming  the  language  is                                                               
adopted that  he and she discussed,  he'll support the bill.   He                                                               
suggested perhaps Ms. Davis should  file a bar complaint [against                                                               
those attorneys].                                                                                                               
                                                                                                                                
MS. DAVIS  reiterated that she'd  looked at the ethics  rules but                                                               
found  wiggle room.   She  said  Rule 7.3  basically prohibits  a                                                               
lawyer from  soliciting in person  or via telephone  contact; the                                                               
exception is if the prospective client is related.                                                                              
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE GARA  asked Ms. Davis  to call  him if she  sees a                                                               
case that comes close to that  line again, saying he might sign a                                                               
bar complaint with her.                                                                                                         
                                                                                                                                
MS. DAVIS explained  that she is cautious because  there are lots                                                               
of  various   relationships  within  small  communities   and  it                                                               
wouldn't be  good to take a  broad swath that makes  an enemy out                                                               
of a  sector of  a community.   She  acknowledged that  these are                                                               
extreme cases.                                                                                                                  
                                                                                                                                
Number 1548                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
TOM  NICOLOS,  General Manager,  Cape  Smythe  Air Service;  Vice                                                               
President, Board  of Directors, Alaska Air  Carriers Association,                                                               
voiced  strong support  for  HB 549  on behalf  of  both the  air                                                               
service and the  association in order to correct  an oversight in                                                               
the federal aviation disaster and  family assistance Act of 1996,                                                               
which  failed  to  put into  effect  any  substantial  deterrent.                                                               
Saying the air  service has seen attorneys  firsthand who operate                                                               
with  disregard  to  the  federal   Act,  he  cited  an  example.                                                               
Agreeing  with  providing  for passengers  who  are  involved  in                                                               
occurrences,  he  emphasized  the  need  to  stop  the  sense  of                                                               
entitlement  that has  been fostered  by attorneys  who know  the                                                               
system and  know that  they can "muscle  settlements" out  of air                                                               
carrier insurers,  and who take  advantage of families  when they                                                               
are most vulnerable.                                                                                                            
                                                                                                                                
Number 1652                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
ART WARBELOW, President, Warbelow's  Air Ventures, Inc., began by                                                               
saying his  business has  operated about 35  years and  has about                                                               
100  employees in  Fairbanks.   He expressed  support for  HB 549                                                               
because  of the  high cost  of liability  insurance, the  fourth-                                                               
largest expense behind labor, fuel, and parts.                                                                                  
                                                                                                                                
[Vice Chair Anderson returned the gavel to Chair McGuire.]                                                                      
                                                                                                                                
MR. WARBELOW  continued, saying most  air carriers in  Alaska are                                                               
underinsured; there  is a legal  [minimum] of $300,000,  and most                                                               
[have insurance  limits] in  the range  of $300,000  to $500,000.                                                               
When  there's an  accident,  a company  realizes  the carrier  is                                                               
underinsured and is willing to  settle quickly for policy limits.                                                               
In  that scenario,  an attorney  who can  get to  the victim  can                                                               
extract a significant contingent fee,  knowing it will be an easy                                                               
case to  settle; the victim  ends up shortchanged.   Mr. Warbelow                                                               
suggested that allowing  time for the operator  and the insurance                                                               
companies to settle will get more  money to those who deserve it,                                                               
rather than the attorneys.                                                                                                      
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE  GARA   asked  whether  there  is   a  significant                                                               
difference  in  premiums  for a  $300,000  policy  and  something                                                               
Mr. Warbelow considers more adequate.                                                                                           
                                                                                                                                
MR.  WARBELOW  replied that  part  of  the  problem is  that  the                                                               
underwriters won't  provide higher limits,  period.  He  cited an                                                               
example and said  people can barely afford to  buy [the minimum].                                                               
Saying this  is driven by a  number of factors, he  mentioned the                                                               
difficulty of  getting the  cost of insurance  to the  point that                                                               
people can afford to buy reasonable coverage.                                                                                   
                                                                                                                                
Number 1824                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
ED  GREGOR   (ph),  AIG  Aviation  Insurance   (ph),  echoed  the                                                               
statements  of Mr.  Nicolos and  Mr. Warbelow;  expressed concern                                                               
about  capacity  in  the  insurance  market;  and  said  although                                                               
brokers make  heroic efforts to  make limits as high  as possible                                                               
on behalf  of their clients,  insurers sometimes suffer  in their                                                               
ability  to  effect good,  strong  defenses  because of  the  low                                                               
limits.  "It's  a concern for us," he added;  "we would prefer to                                                               
see  higher  limits."    Applauding  the  discussion  within  the                                                               
committee  about keeping  the language  "broad yet  specific," he                                                               
said it needs to be broad enough to prevent creative solutions.                                                                 
                                                                                                                                
MR.  GREGOR  noted that  in  25  years  he has  seen  interesting                                                               
extremes  relating  to the  solicitation  of  claims.   He  cited                                                               
examples  from Louisiana  and Mississippi  when events  involving                                                               
chemical  plants led  to attorneys'  signing people  up for  huge                                                               
class action lawsuits.  Acknowledging  it isn't to that extent in                                                               
Alaska, he  said there  is concern  by insurers  nonetheless when                                                               
solicitation is  uninhibited for  minor accidents.   Offering his                                                               
perspective as  a claims handler,  Mr. Gregor said it  upsets him                                                               
that he  often doesn't have  the opportunity to exhibit  the good                                                               
will  that  is available  and  to  help carriers  assist  injured                                                               
passengers  as  quickly   as  possible,  including  all-important                                                               
immediate  financial  assistance   when  breadwinners  have  been                                                               
injured.                                                                                                                        
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE GARA opined that just  as an attorney shouldn't be                                                               
able to  solicit a client within  the first 45 days,  a defendant                                                               
shouldn't be  able to get a  client to waive the  right to pursue                                                               
legal action.                                                                                                                   
                                                                                                                                
MR. GREGOR agreed.                                                                                                              
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE GARA asked whether  the early financial assistance                                                               
has strings attached.                                                                                                           
                                                                                                                                
MR. GREGOR  answered that  the federal  law requires  carriers to                                                               
provide immediate  financial assistance;  it is the  practice and                                                               
part of the coverage of the  air carriers to provide that sort of                                                               
assistance up  front as  well.   He specified  that there  are no                                                               
strings attached.   Recognizing that these claims  for people who                                                               
are genuinely injured can be  large, he said an immediate payment                                                               
of $10,000,  $20,000, or $25,000  won't significantly  change the                                                               
fact  that the  claim  will have  to be  settled  for payment  of                                                               
additional monies down the road.                                                                                                
                                                                                                                                
Number 2024                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
PAUL  LANDIS, Member,  Board of  Directors,  Alaska Air  Carriers                                                               
Association,  noted  that he  is  senior  vice president  of  Era                                                               
Aviation,  Inc., but  was speaking  on behalf  of the  Alaska Air                                                               
Carriers  Association,  whose  executive director  and  president                                                               
were  unable  to  testify.    Mr.  Landis  said  the  association                                                               
certainly  understands  the  sense of  entitlement  that  exists,                                                               
particularly  now  in  rural Alaska,  where  lawyers  are  making                                                               
promises that  can't be kept to  passengers who listen in  a weak                                                               
moment.                                                                                                                         
                                                                                                                                
MR.  LANDIS  mentioned the  air  carriers'  practice of  bringing                                                               
passengers to hospitals for an  examination following any sort of                                                               
incident, and  that lawyers are  waiting to  sign them up  on the                                                               
spot.   He reported that also  being heard from the  air carriers                                                               
is that  following turbulence or  a hard landing,  passengers may                                                               
experience soreness  that will disappear  in 48 hours,  but these                                                               
people are  hooked in with promises  of easy cash.   He cited the                                                               
example of  a fear-of-flying lawsuit and  out-of-court settlement                                                               
following  the collapse  of  nose  gear when  a  plane landed  in                                                               
Bethel.   The effort with  HB 549  is to prevent  the unsolicited                                                               
strong-arming of passengers by lawyers,  he said, which drives up                                                               
the cost of  insurance and, in the long run,  hurts the traveling                                                               
public.  He urged support for HB 549 as written.                                                                                
                                                                                                                                
Number 2131                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
MELISSA FOUSE specified  that she was speaking on  her own behalf                                                               
as a survivor  and family member of someone who  was killed in an                                                               
airplane crash, although she is  executive director of the Alaska                                                               
Academy of Trial Lawyers.  She said:                                                                                            
                                                                                                                                
     Frankly, I'm a little offended  by the testimony of the                                                                    
     airplane people who  say, ... "Oh, it's just  a bump on                                                                    
     the  end  of the  runway  and  these lawyers  are  like                                                                    
     piranhas."   My  brother  was actually  killed, and  we                                                                    
     didn't have a single lawyer  contact us until after the                                                                    
     federal law date  - not one single lawyer.   I will say                                                                    
     that at the end of  that, we did get solicitations, and                                                                    
     that  was fine  because we  wanted to  know what  to do                                                                    
     next.                                                                                                                      
                                                                                                                                
MS.  FOUSE related  her  opinion  that making  this  a felony  is                                                               
absurd,  and that  it isn't  the attorneys  who start  the cycle;                                                               
rather,  it is  the  accident.   She  asked  the committee,  when                                                               
considering this  legislation, to please consider  the people who                                                               
were hurt or killed.                                                                                                            
                                                                                                                                
CHAIR McGUIRE apologized if any  comments from the committee were                                                               
offensive; she  said the intent  certainly isn't to  minimize the                                                               
loss or injury suffered in  accidents, and many times recovery is                                                               
deserved.   She explained  that there is  a rule  of professional                                                               
conduct  in  this  same  spirit  and  that  this  is  to  get  at                                                               
[attorneys]  who   are  soliciting   passengers  inappropriately.                                                               
Referring  to earlier  discussion,  she stated  the intention  of                                                               
narrowing this  from the  federal law  on which  it is  based, to                                                               
clarify  that   it  wouldn't   exclude  legitimate   cases  where                                                               
information is needed.                                                                                                          
                                                                                                                                
Number 2321                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
ROBERT JACOBSEN, President, Wings of  Alaska, noted that Wings of                                                               
Alaska and Wings Airways are  sister companies and indicated they                                                               
emplane about  75,000 passengers  annually.  Speaking  in support                                                               
of the bill, Mr. Jacobsen said  he has been in the business about                                                               
25 years and  has seen accidents over the years,  both "bumps and                                                               
bruises" and catastrophic ones.  He said:                                                                                       
                                                                                                                                
     Honestly, we  care deeply about the  industry, and this                                                                    
     is  an  attempt  to  start to  help  this  hemorrhaging                                                                    
     industry that  we've been experiencing for  a number of                                                                    
     years.   But also,  most of my  professional colleagues                                                                    
     in this business  have a lot of integrity,  and we care                                                                    
     deeply about our customers too.   Our customers are our                                                                    
     neighbors, and we care about them.                                                                                         
                                                                                                                                
MR. JACOBSEN recalled four instances  when there were mishaps but                                                               
no serious injuries; he said  plaintiff attorneys got hold of his                                                               
customers, who  weren't cared  for in the  long run  because they                                                               
weren't  well represented  and their  attorneys  took that  "one-                                                               
third  plus expenses"  away from  the settlement.   He  remarked,                                                               
"That doesn't  make us feel good;  ... we'd just as  soon more of                                                               
it get  into the hands  of the families  or the victims  that ...                                                               
were part of the incident."   He encouraged passage of HB 549 and                                                               
consideration of more tort-reform issues.                                                                                       
                                                                                                                                
CHAIR  McGUIRE  asked  whether anyone  else  wished  to  testify.                                                               
Hearing no response, she then closed public testimony.                                                                          
                                                                                                                                
TAPE 04-59, SIDE B                                                                                                            
Number 2392                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE  GARA moved  to adopt  Amendment 1,  a handwritten                                                               
amendment that read [original punctuation provided]:                                                                            
                                                                                                                                
     Page 1, Line 6                                                                                                             
     After "attorney"                                                                                                           
     Delete "or potential party"                                                                                                
                                                                                                                                
     Page 1, Line 8                                                                                                             
     After "accident"                                                                                                           
     Delete "concerning a potential action"                                                                                     
     Insert  "for  the  purpose of  offering  or  discussing                                                                    
     potential representation in an action"                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
Number 2379                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE HOLM objected.                                                                                                   
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE GARA explained  that Amendment 1 does  what he and                                                               
Ms. Davis had  discussed earlier:  it limits  criminal conduct to                                                               
those  attorneys  who contact  a  client  in  the first  45  days                                                               
seeking to be  hired, and it deletes the  language that addresses                                                               
"sort of  the situations that  I think  we don't want  to address                                                               
with this bill."                                                                                                                
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE HOLM removed his objection.                                                                                      
                                                                                                                                
Number 2350                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
CHAIR McGUIRE  asked whether there  was any further  objection to                                                               
Amendment  1.   [No objection  was  stated, and  Amendment 1  was                                                               
treated as adopted.]                                                                                                            
                                                                                                                                
CHAIR McGUIRE remarked that it's  a good amendment and suggested,                                                               
"You should  contact the federal  folks, too,  because throughout                                                               
their statute  it says 'potential action'  and 'potential party',                                                               
and it is broad."                                                                                                               
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE  GARA  replied  that  he  thinks  it's  trying  to                                                               
prevent  insurance  companies  from   getting  people  to  settle                                                               
quickly before they can contact an  attorney.  He added that it's                                                               
beyond the scope of what [HB 549] is intended to address.                                                                       
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE OGG referred to line  6 and asked why "intrastate"                                                               
is  used, rather  than having  this also  apply to  interstate or                                                               
international [flights].                                                                                                        
                                                                                                                                
CHAIR McGUIRE said it's because  federal law would supercede; the                                                               
bill can only  apply to flights within the  state because there's                                                               
already a federal law.                                                                                                          
                                                                                                                                
Number 2260                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
MS.  DAVIS  said that  when  the  federal government  chooses  to                                                               
regulate  the interstate  aspects of  aviation, the  state cannot                                                               
"step  over the  top  of  that," but  can  legislate relative  to                                                               
purely  intrastate  [flights].    She  offered  her  belief  that                                                               
there'd  be a  significant  "federal preemption  problem" if  the                                                               
bill went beyond intrastate activity.   She added that other than                                                               
the obvious ones,  few flights go directly out of  state; if they                                                               
do, Alaska's  state law would be  trumped by federal law  as well                                                               
as international law.                                                                                                           
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE OGG  asked whether Alaska's law  could be stricter                                                               
than the federal law.                                                                                                           
                                                                                                                                
MS. DAVIS  answered that because  the federal law  resides within                                                               
NTSB's body of law, in the  aviation and family disaster Act, she                                                               
guessed the  question would  be whether  [Alaska's law]  could be                                                               
more solicitous and helpful to families.   She said that it's not                                                               
quite  like  commerce,  where there  are  "overlaying  layers  of                                                               
commerce,"  since  NTSB  is  "sort  of  an  all-or-none  kind  of                                                               
entity."   She went on to  say it's possible that  [Alaska's law]                                                               
could be  more restrictive regarding intrastate  aspects, and she                                                               
offered to  look into whether it  would doom the bill  if it were                                                               
expanded to cover interstate [flights].                                                                                         
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE OGG said he'd appreciate that.                                                                                   
                                                                                                                                
Number 2149                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE ANDERSON  moved to report  the proposed CS  for HB
549,  Version 23-LS1860\D,  Bullock, 4/1/04,  as amended,  out of                                                               
committee  with individual  recommendations and  the accompanying                                                               
zero fiscal notes.   There being no objection,  CSHB 549(JUD) was                                                               
reported from the House Judiciary Standing Committee.                                                                           
                                                                                                                                

Document Name Date/Time Subjects