Industry Splits On Product Liability Compromise

Draft legislation on product-liability reform resulting from the compromise agreement between the Senate and the White House is getting a mixed reaction from industry. After reviewing the proposed language by the bill's co-authors -- Senators John D. Rockefeller IV (D, W. Va.) and Slade Gorton (R, Wash.) -- the National Assn. of Manufacturers (NAM) late last week announced its support. The association particularly applauds the measure's call, in states that allow punitive damages, for a uniform standard of "clear and convincing evidence" that the defendant has caused harm. Also, points out NAM, the compromise sets an 18-year limit from time of purchase beyond which manufacturers of durable goods cannot be sued.

In contrast, the Chemical Manufacturers Assn. (CMA) says it will "vigorously oppose" the compromise. President & CEO Fred Webber says it "is a retreat from the legislation passed by Congress and vetoed in 1996 by President Clinton." That earlier legislation, says Webber, "was true reform." The new measure, he warns, not only could lead to a new and more expensive round of product litigation, but also could cause some employers to shirk their workplace health and safety responsibilities."

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