Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Year 2000 Software Bug Could Take Many to Court

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Year 2000 Software Bug Could Take Many to Court

Article excerpt

WASHINGTON -- When credit cards imprinted with an "00" expiration date were scanned by cash registers in two Michigan groceries last year, they jammed the machinery and triggered a lawsuit that flashed an early warning signal to the computerized world.

Not only may businesses and government agencies find their operations disrupted by computer chips that fail to recognize the turn of the century, but the aftermath could be a barrage of litigation.

"This will be the single largest legal event in history," said Eric Schmidt, the Year 2000 coordinator for Bricker and Eckler of Columbus, Ohio, one of many law firms setting up specialty offices and advertising on the Internet. "I think you're going to see a lot of people pointing fingers," Schmidt said. "And a lot of people are not taking this seriously," he added, echoing a widespread view that computer industry executives are not doing enough to prepare and could be held liable. In the grocers' case, Produce Palace International reached a $250,000 settlement last September from Tec America, the Atlanta- based company that provided the cash registers. At least 20 more lawsuits have been filed seeking damages over software or equipment that is not ready for the new century. Intuit, maker of the widely used Quicken bookkeeping software, has been the target of five lawsuits from customers who owned versions that weren't 21st century-ready. Intuit won dismissals of the suits and has announced that it will provide free repairs, a service that the company says it had planned all along. The real test, of course, will come on Jan. 1, 2000. If billings, orders, bank accounts, payrolls, emergency alarms, and assembly lines are disrupted, the court dockets could be filled with petitions from customers and stockholders. However, the risks can be reduced greatly if companies take the proper steps, say experts who publish advice on an Internet site (http://www.year2000.com). The site has become a national bulletin board for both fixing the problem and reducing the threat of lawsuits. Warren S. Reid, managing director of WSR Consulting Group of Encino, Calif., advised in a posting on the site that businesses take inventory of their technology problem, set up an action plan, offer frank and accurate status reports, and document the whole effort. He also urges executives, lawmakers and industries as a whole to work together. "If you think it isn't going to be pretty the way you understand it now, just think about trying to work this out in a courtroom environment," he said. "The good news is that if you address the problem in a planned and professional manner you will most likely be in fine shape." From his Columbus office, Schmidt said he has been volunteering to speak to businesses and societies and even churches about how they can avoid that pitfall. …

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