WASHINGTON (May 22, 2001)–The House Energy and Commerce Committee has passed a bill to limit small business liability in hazardous waste cleanups under Superfund.
Meanwhile, groups such as the Tire Association of North America are joining in support of a bill to protect very small businesses from excessive or frivolous product liability damage awards.
The Small Business Liability Protection Act has a bipartisan list of 65 co-sponsors and was passed May 17 by voice vote at an Energy and Commerce Committee meeting.
“Today's vote is a true win for small business, and with passage of the bill, we take a big step towards fixing a Superfund law in desperate need of reform,” Committee Chairman Billy Tauzin, R-La., said in a press release about the passage of the bill.
The bill exempts businesses with 100 or fewer workers which contribute only non-hazardous waste or minute amounts of hazardous wastes to Superfund sites. Also under the bill, if a large business sues a small business for Superfund cost recovery and loses, the large business must pay the small business' legal fees.
A similarly named bipartisan bill, the Small Business Liability Reform Act of 2001, would eliminate joint-and-several liability for companies with fewer than 25 full-time employees, meaning they would pay only their share of a product liability suit and couldn't be held liable for more.
These small companies would also have punitive damages limited to $250,000 or three times compensatory damages, whichever is lesser, and non-manufacturing product sellers could only be held liable when they themselves did something to make the product harmful.
“This bill would protect the small guys from frivolous suits that name anyone and everyone,” said Becky MacDicken, TANA director of government affairs. Ann Wilson, vice president of government affairs for the Rubber Manufacturers Association, said the RMA had circulated a copy of the bill to its General Products Group for its opinion. “Many of the GPG members are small businesses,” Ms. Wilson said.