WASHINGTON-As the Senate began debate on its version of product liability reform legislation, a widely known consumer activist reiterated her total opposition to reform in general and the current bill in particular. The punitive damage cap of $250,000 or triple economic damages, part of both the Senate and recently passed House tort reform bills, will allow irresponsible manufacturers literally to get away with murder, said Joan Claybrook, president of Public Citizen and a former head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Documents in auto product liability cases, Ms. Claybrook said, demonstrate makers knowingly put defective vehicles on the road.
The highest-paid executives in America ``sent families to their deaths, just as surely as the bombers in Oklahoma City,'' she said.
In the Ford Pinto case, jurors originally demanded punitive damages of $125 million against Ford Motor Co. Although the judge reduced this to $3.5 million, such large punitive awards send a message that irresponsibility will not be tolerated, she said.
A cap of $250,000, on the other hand, would be meaningless to manufacturers, Ms. Claybrook said.