WASHINGTON-Business representatives-including those from the tire industry-greeted with disappointment President Clinton's long-expected May 2 veto of product liability reform legislation. ``There's been a lot of time and effort put into creating a product liability program that is equitable and has some meaning,'' said Peter J. Pantuso, vice president of public affairs for the Rubber Manufacturers Association. ``It was the best program we've seen in years.''
The bill passed the House and Senate with victory margins well below the two-thirds majority needed to override a presidential veto.
It would have capped punitive damages at $250,000 or twice compensatory damages, whichever was more (for companies with 25 or more employees) or less (for smaller firms).
Judges, however, could have waived the punitive limit if they found companies guilty of ``egregious'' behavior in putting unsafe products on the market.
Among other things, the bill also would have abolished joint-and-several liability; placed a 15-year statute of limitations on product liability lawsuits; and granted special protection against lawsuits for manufacturers of biomedical polymers and similar materials.
In vetoing the bill, President Clinton acknowledged he supported and signed product liability reform as governor of Arkansas. But he found the punitive damages cap and statute of limitations in the federal legislation ``unfair'' to consumers.
``(T)his bill would hurt families without truly improving our legal system,'' he said. ``It would mean more unsafe products in our homes. It would let wrongdoers off the hook. I cannot allow it to become law.''
Many business commenters accused Mr. Clinton of buckling under to trial lawyers' opposition to the bill in exchange for their support this election year.
Prominent Democrats-including senators Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia and Christopher Dodd and Joseph Lieberman, both of Connecticut-worked hard for the bill's passage, noted Paul Huard, senior vice president of the National Association of Manufacturers.
``We are extremely disappointed that President Clinton, unlike many of his fair-minded Democratic colleagues, would put politics above his past principles and veto these necessary reforms,'' Mr. Huard said.
Continued business protest may cause Mr. Clinton to change his mind in the future, according to Roy E. Littlefield III, government affairs director of the International Tire and Rubber Association. ``But we're not hopeful,'' he said.