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The Bush Administration's campaign to pre-empt consumer rights

Is the media finally catching on to the Bush administration’s campaign to weaken the rights of consumers to seek compensation for injuries from faulty products? Maybe. A few outlets picked up on Alicia Mundy’s Wall Street Journal piece about the administration’s attempts to do an end around Congress and the Courts in its effort to undermine consumer protections in state courts.

Bush administration officials, in their last weeks in office, are pushing to rewrite a wide array of federal rules with changes or additions that could block product-safety lawsuits by consumers and states.

The administration has written language aimed at pre-empting product-liability litigation into 50 rules governing everything from motorcycle brakes to pain medicine. The latest changes cap a multiyear effort that could be one of the administration’s lasting legacies, depending in part on how the underlying principle of pre-emption fares in a case the Supreme Court will hear next month.

Coincidently, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration issued a new regulation today that seeks to immunize school bus manufacturers who comply with federal standards from liability for personal injury caused by faulty products.

Public Citizen attorneys have been out front on this issue, arguing against the concept of federal pre-emption in the courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court. Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook commented last week on the Bush attack on consumer rights.

How many times is NHTSA going to show its disdain for consumers? . . . The fear of lawsuits is one of the greatest incentives automakers have to build stronger and safer vehicles. For NHTSA to suggest that automakers should have blanket immunity from consumer liability lawsuits means that more defective vehicles will be manufactured, fewer will be recalled, the public will have less information about injury causation and more families will needlessly lose loved ones on our roads each day.

Les Weisbrod made a similar comment about the dangers of the administration’s actions in the Huffington Post:

We only need to look at the recent recalls of spinach, toys with lead, meat, pet food, and toothpaste to know the government alone cannot ensure all drugs, food, and other consumer products are safe. Preemption not only gives corporations an escape from misconduct, but takes away the incentive for manufacturers to compete with one another to make products safer.

Kia Franklin and Justinian Lane put up several great posts about pre-emption today at Tort Deform.