WASHINGTON-The House quixotically followed the Senate's lead and passed the product liability reform conference bill March 29, with a majority 19 votes short of the two-thirds needed to override President Clinton's promised veto. Business interests were pleased at the 259-158 House vote. The Senate passed the bill 59-40 on March 20. That count was eight votes short of the two-thirds majority needed to override a veto.
Rubber industry representatives are unhappy over President Clinton's March 16 announcement that he will veto the bill.
``We are very happy to see it pass,'' said Peter J. Pantuso, vice president of public affairs for the Rubber Manufacturers Association. ``We are disappointed, however, about the president's planned veto, which seems motivated in no small part because trial lawyers have always provided so much of his financial support.''
Under the conference report issued March 13, punitive damages in product liability lawsuits would be limited to $250,000 or twice compensatory damages, whichever is less (for companies with fewer than 25 employees) or more (for larger companies). Judges could waive the cap if they found the defendants to be particularly reckless.
Joint-and-several liability, long the bane of small businesses, would end under the bill for non-economic damages. That means individual defendants could not be forced to pay damages on behalf of all others.
The National Tire Dealers & Retreaders Association was pleased with the punitive damage and liability limitations, but disappointed the bill, unlike the original House bill, does not extend its exemptions to all civil legal actions.
In announcing his planned veto, President Clinton said the product liability bill ``unfairly tilts the legal playing field to the disadvantage of consumers.''