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Product liability reform bill takes step forward.


A federal policy of product liability took a step forward Oct. 3 when the Senate Commerce, Science and Technology Committee passed a product liability reform measure by a 13-7 vote. The bill still must get through the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The Product Liability Fairness Act, SB 640, sponsored by U.S. Senator Bob Kasten (R-Wis.), and co-sponsored by 35 other senators would establish a uniform set of national rules governing product liability litigation. The bill would in part abolish several and joint liability, set a two-year statute of limitations after the plaintiff discovers the injury and not after the injury has taken place, and eliminates suits involving products more than 25 years old. Additionally, it provides an alcohol and drug defense for manufacturers and retailers and has a provision to promote expedited settlements.

According to a spokesperson for Kasten, the bill could make it before the full Senate by the first of the year. Kasten spokesperson Kirsten Fedewa added that once the bill makes it onto the Senate floor it is expected to pass due to the fact that 36 of 100 senators have co-sponsored the bill.

This view is not universally shared.

Sen. Bob Dole (R-Kan.) told WOOD & WOOD PRODUCTS he does not believe the bill will pass. "The trial lawyers are still too strong of a lobby," he said. "Ninety percent of their campaign funds go to Democrats." He did not elaborate on this charge.

Shelly London, legal counsel for the Wood Machinery Manufacturers Assn., said that the road ahead for the Senate bill and a similar house bill still faces some hurdles.

The bill has been referred to the Judiciary Committee. The committee has 60 days in which to act on the measure before it is sent to be calendared for a full senate vote. "It very well could languish there, but every indication is that they will move on it," London said.

To give the bill a boost, London is trying to make product liability a "major election year issue."

Last year, at the end of the second session, the judiciary committee held up the bill in its committee for the full 60 days. London said that with the second session still to go, the chances are good that the act could come up for a floor vote.

"We have a pro-consumer, pro-jobs bill that has bipartisan support in both Houses and Congress, and the full backing of the Bush Administration," Kasten said.

A similar bill, H.R. 3030, was introduced in the House of Representatives in August. The Product Liability Fairness Act of 1991, co-sponsored by more than 100 members of the House, is currently in the commerce committee.

London said he believes there are enough votes to get it through the House Commerce Committee but that it will face stronger opposition when it goes before the Judiciary Committee. The Judiciary Committee is headed by Jack Brooks, who is not an "ally" of product liability reform, London said.

PHOTO : The graph indicates new orders, shipments and unfilled of U.S. wood and upholstered furniture in millions of dollars for the last 12 months that figures are available. Totals for new orders and shipments are cumulative. Totals for unfilled orders represent the normal 60-day lead time between order and delivery of work in process.
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Copyright 1991, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Adams, Larry
Publication:Wood & Wood Products
Date:Nov 1, 1991
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