Journal Record Staff Reporter
Product liability laws are biased against business, two local
advocates for reform said this week. They lamented the recent
failure in Congress of product liability legislation, but vowed
to continue the cause.
Until about a week ago, supporters of U.S. Senate Bill 687
thought it would waltz through the Senate, said Fran Godchaux,
director of the Small Business Department of the Oklahoma State
Chamber of Commerce Industry.
The legislation, sponsored by U.S. Sens. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.
Va., and Slade Gorton, R-Wash., was aimed at reducing the high
cost of liability insurance manufacturers pay, removing a major
impediment to new product research and helping consumers by
speeding up lawsuits.
Opponents said it would undercut an essential remedy for
consumers who were grotesquely and permanently damaged by
Business interests failed on two consecutive days to get the
necessary 60 votes to end a longtime filibuster of Senate 687.
"We're disappointed the trial attorneys and Ralph Nader's
Public Citizen group were able to keep the filibuster," Godchaux
said. "I am pleased to state that both Oklahoma U.S. Senators
(David) Boren and (Don) Nickles were cosponsors of the bill, so
they were certainly not in that group that was part of the
Robert H. Alexander Jr., whose Oklahoma City law firm
specializes in defense of manufacturers against plaintiffs'
claims, said, "It would have made things better for
manufacturers, because they wouldn't have been subjected to
different standards in different states, so there would have been
some uniform ability for them to manage their affairs."
Godchaux said there is a "mishmash of 50 state laws on product
liability. This statute was important because a federal statute
would have pre-empted many of the inconsistent state provisions
that govern product liability for personal injuries. It could
have saved businesses millions of dollars in court costs and
injury compensation claims."
Alexander said manufacturers generally have a corporate
headquarters, along with one or more plants that manufacture the
product. "The product is usually found in every state, and a
number of other countries as well," he said.
"The company has to hire lawyers in all those states to defend
them in those situations. I defend some of my clients in a number
of states, so I have a familiarity with the laws in other
Some of Alexander's clients are General Motors Corp., Chrysler
Corp., Ford Motor Co., Volvo/GM Heavy Truck Corp., Freightliner
Corp., New United Motor Manufacturing Inc., Deere Co. and
Godchaux said in most states, about 70 percent of all goods
manufactured in the state are shipped elsewhere.
"The law that was proposed was not skewed toward manufacturers
and against consumers, but the laws as they presently exist are
skewed against manufacturers," Alexander said. "All an individual
has to do is point to an alleged defect and the fact he was
injured, and the fact that he caused the injury can't even be
talked about, in most states."
With the torpedoing of Senate 687, federal product liability
legislation probably won't be called up again until next year,
Godchaux said. …