WASHINGTON-Tire manufacturers and dealers are jubilant over House passage of a sweeping product liability reform bill March 10. But the White House is threatening a veto unless Republican sponsors agree to modifications. In a 265-161 vote, the House approved legislation which caps punitive damages at $250,000 or three times economic damages, whichever is higher. It also bars joint-and-several liability for non-economic damages and limits the liability of product sellers.
If a plaintiff's drunkenness or drug abuse is determined to be more than 50 percent responsible for an accident, that is an absolute defense against punitive damages.
The legislation also imposes a statute of repose in which all goods more than 15 years old, under most circumstances, cannot be the subject of a product liability lawsuit. The only exception is when plaintiffs' medical expenses aren't fully reimbursed by their insurance companies or employers.
``Product liability reform is something we've supported for a long time,'' said Roy E. Littlefield III, government relations director of the American Retreaders' Association.
The GOP bill is ``stronger and more meaningful'' than tort reform legislation of past years, Mr. Littlefield added, because it contains less compromise.
The White House claims the damage cap and other provisions ``tilt the legal playing field dramatically to the disadvantage of consumers and middle-class citizens.''