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Payne Stewart
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Payne Stewart dies in plane crash

Stewart's family may not be able to sue

A new state law may prevent the family of golfer Payne Stewart, killed in a Learjet crash, from suing the manufacturers of the plane.

Stewart and five others died Oct. 25 after their Learjet took off from Orlando, became disabled and then flew 1,400 miles on autopilot before crashing in South Dakota.

The law, which took effect Oct. 1, exempts commercial planes that are more than 20 years old from product liability claims.

The plane Stewart was riding on was 23 years old.

But legislative staff members who helped draft the new lawsuit-limiting law said they doubt the measure would apply to the Stewart crash. Legislators provided a four-year grace period for product liability lawsuits against transportation manufacturers, including plane and ship companies.

Those claims can be filed until July 2003, the law says.

Opponents said the Stewart crash provides an example of how the law will eventually prevent victims' families from having access to the courts.

Democratic State Sen. Walter "Skip" Campbell said the aircraft exemption is one of the reasons he believes the Florida courts will ultimately reject the law as an unconstitutional limit on court access for injured Floridians.