It's getting to be an old story. A treaty to change the way international airline passengers are compensated for crashes failed again to get to the Senate floor.
As the 101st Congress passed the budget reconciliation bill and rushed to adjourn, the Montreal Protocols were one of the items trampled underfoot.
After 15 unsuccessful years -- in three of them the treaty did get to the Senate floor only to be rejected -- the airlines and the government say they will try again in the 102nd Congress next year.
"The Foreign Relations Committee has told us it hopes to bring it up early in the year at one of their first business meetings," said Nancy H. Van Duyne, director of federal legislation for the Air Transport Association.
The Montreal Protocols were developed by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) in Montreal in 1975. They would modify the Warsaw Convention of 1929, which authorized the small print on the back of airline tickets that tells passengers the maximum compensation their survivors will receive if they die in a crash or the maximum they will get for such things as lost luggage.
Airlines are now obligated to pay $75,000 to survivors, no matter what the reason for the crash. The Warsaw Convention also allows survivors to sue airlines in cases of "willful misconduct."
The Montreal Protocols would increase the automatic payments to about $130,000, but would end suits against airlines by establishing a supplemental compensation plan to pay for additional losses, including pain and suffering. It would not be necessary to prove willful misconduct, only that there had been a loss.
The Association of Trial Lawyers of America and several key allies, including Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.), are adamantly opposed to the treaty as an infringement on the right to sue, and they have run a long and effective lobbying campaign against it.
If the treaty does get to the Senate floor next year, it will be the first time since a version of it was rejected in 1983.