June 25, 1998
STATEMENT BY PUBLIC CITIZEN PRESIDENT JOAN CLAYBROOK CONDEMNING
THE CLINTON-ROCKEFELLER-GORTON PRODUCTS LIABILITY
“WRONGDOERS PROTECTION ACT”
The products liability bill Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott has decided to ram through the Senate would, for the first time in U.S. history, broadly preempt products liability standards in all 50 states. This harmful deal, negotiated by the White House, Senator Jay Rockefeller and Senator Slade Gorton, would interfere with the ability of injured consumers and workers to hold wrongdoers accountable. It must be defeated.
Senators of good conscience should oppose a closed debating process and should not support this bill to limit victims’ rights, protect wrongdoers and preempt state courts and juries with new federal mandates.
Because this latest products proposal is so indefensible, Senator Lott wants to cut off debate before it has even begun. He is expected to bring up this bad deal and immediately file a cloture petition to limit debate and the amendments that can be offered to the bill. Is this the same Senator Lott who consistently opposed cloture petition after cloture petition on the tobacco bill after four weeks was spent debating and amending that legislation? His stated reason for opposing cloture on tobacco was that Senators had important amendments they wanted to offer to the McCain bill.
A number of Senators have important amendments to add to this bill, too. They should be allowed to freely debate and amend the most intrusive preemption of consumer law in the history of Congress without Senator Lott trying to limit them. Just because two Senators cut a deal with the White House does not mean the remaining 98 Senators should not be able to have a say in this process.
Although this latest proposal is touted by its supporters as a “reasonable compromise,” nothing could be further from the truth. A review of this bill makes clear that it is not a narrow, measured response to those calling for limited liability in products cases. This bill would impose intrusive federal mandates on state courts and would override state statutes and case law. This bill would relieve corporations of full responsibility for their misconduct — even if their acts are intentional and no matter how grievously their products injure. This bill would shift the cost of compensating injured Americans from corporate wrongdoers to taxpayer-funded health and disability programs and individual families. This bill does nothing for injured consumers and their families but take away their rights while protecting the rights of businesses to recoup their economic losses related to defective products.