By Lou Anne Wolfe
Journal Record Staff Reporter
Some Oklahoma City business leaders believe conditions look
better than ever for passage next month of a uniform product
liability law at the federal level.
Senate 640, the proposed Product Liability Fairness Act, is
scheduled for a vote in the U.S. Senate on Sept. 8, said Dean
Schirf, director of government relations for the Oklahoma City
Chamber of Commerce.
"We strongly support it," he said. "It's one of the main
business issues that we work on, on a perennial basis, at the
Since product liability currently is regulated from state to
state, there are 51 different sets of litigation rules when the
District of Columbia is considered, Schirf said.
"We've never really had any real success in the state of
Oklahoma, and the business community and chamber have tried in
the last several sessions to get some product liability reform
passed in the state Legislature," he said.
"I think one of the No. 1 things we have attempted to reform
is the statute of limitations, and we have been unsuccessful."
In Oklahoma, there is no "real" statute of limitations, Schirf
said. "You're just open to the courts, and it's creating a lot of
costly and timely situations for business, and this ought to be
addressed at the federal level."
Under the existing system, a product feasibly could be
manufactured in one state, purchased in another state and be
involved in an accident in a third state.
"So you have three states with varying degrees of precedent
law within those respective states," he said. "There really needs
to be a standard, and that's what this federal legislation is
trying to accomplish."
Some of the provisions of Senate 640 and its companion bill,
House Resolution 3030, are:
A uniform statute of limitations. Claimants could bring a civil
action within two years from the time an injury and its cause are
discovered, or should reasonably have been discovered. Lawsuits
involving heavy machinery or other capital goods more than 25
years old would be disallowed.
Product sellers would be liable for harms caused by their
negligence, such as that resulting from the alteration of a
product, assembling a product or making false representations
about it. If a manufacturer's errors caused the claimant's harm,
and the manufacturer had no U.S. assets or was out of business,
the seller would be liable.
Punitive damages could be assessed only if there was "clear and
convincing evidence" that a company showed "conscious, flagrant
indifference" to public safety. Defendants could request that
punitive damages be considered in a separate proceeding, apart
from the issues of liability and compensatory damages.
If a manufacturer obtained prerket approval from the federal
Food and Drug Administration, or Federal Aviation Administration
certification, then punitive damages would not be allowed.
Businesses would be liable for such nononomic damages as recovery
for pain and suffering, and emotional distress, only in
proportion to their share of the blame, rather than making them
be jointly liable for the entire amount. …