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With Business Immunity Bill, Consumers Pay

Feb. 16, 2000                                                              

With Business Immunity Bill, Consumers Pay

Statement of Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook on Passage of H.R. 2366

The House of Representatives today passed by a vote of 221-193 H.R. 2366, a bill that shifts the costs of business misbehavior from the companies who profited from it to consumers injured by it.

Regrettably, the House of Representatives has voted to limit liability to businesses, thus shifting the costs of their wrongdoing to innocent consumers and workers. This vote demonstrates that corporate campaign contributions are more important to the majority of members than protecting their injured constituents.

By capping punitive damages, H.R. 2366 mostly protects the worst violators and reduces the deterrent effect of the damages. As a result, American consumers will be injured by more medical malpractice, unsafe highways, contaminated food, financial scams and dangerous products. Further, the bill preempts state judges and juries who hear evidence from deciding on liability and damages.

Obscuring the true nature of this legislation, lawmakers misnamed it the “Small Business Liability Reform Act.” It is neither reform, nor does it apply only to small businesses.

In a shameful and undemocratic move, the House leadership gagged opposing views, preventing lawmakers from voting on certain amendments. One key amendment would have prevented irresponsible gun manufacturers (including two manufacturers of guns used in the Columbine tragedy) and distributors from receiving immunity under the bill.

While the House’s action is unconscionable, consumers can take some consolation that the vote in the House was narrow enough to sustain the administration’s recommended veto of this egregiously unfair bill.