AMERICANS traditionally back the little guy. Think back to the
Miracle Mets taking the World Series from Baltimore in 1969 and
remember the fervor the "underdog" engenders.
This sentiment is especially strong if the "big guy" is a
corporation that lies in the name of profit.
That's why I can't understand support for the "Product Liability
Reform Bill" (S 565). It passed the House of Representatives and
the Senate Commerce Committee. If passed by the Senate, it will
reduce the redress available to each citizen and limit the ability
to sue businesses -- even if the businesses do great harm.
Sadly, most of us don't understand product liability law and
punitive damages. Punitive damages are not to compensate an injured
party, but to punish wrongful actions that a jury decides were
intentional or malicious. Punitive damages also deter wrongful
conduct. So who wants this bill to become law? I'll tell you: the
same kinds of companies that knowingly manufactured and sold cars
with fuel tanks in the "crush zone," defective birth control
devices, and the like.
This "reform" bill is nothing more than an attack on the jury
system by corporations. A lobbying group, the National Association
of Manufacturers, said the committee vote was a "strong step toward
... reforming America's legal system."
Funny thing about the people we keep electing. I don't remember
asking them to reform America's legal system. I wonder which
corporate lobbyists convinced "our" senators and representatives
that "we" need reform?
Supporters of the bill argue that product liability and
punitive-damage lawsuits are "antibusiness," and that without the
legislation US companies can't compete with foreign firms.
Have I got this right? In some countries it's OK to manufacture
dangerous things because you can get away with it. And some US
businesses think we should "reform" our laws so they will be able
to manufacture dangerous things too.
One of the myths used by supporters of the legislation is the
"product liability crisis" that's snarling our courts with
"frivilous" lawsuits. It just isn't so.
Product liability filings in federal court declined 36 percent
between 1985 and 1991 (excluding asbestos cases). The vast majority
of civil cases involve domestic relations, bankruptcies, or
contracts. Let's look closely at Montana, one of the least
populated states, and California, one of the most populated:
In Montana, civil cases claiming personal injury have declined