PRODUCT LIABILITY BILL MAY LEAVE JOINT & SEVERAL LIABILITY TO STATES
PRODUCT LIABILITY BILL MAY LEAVE JOINT & SEVERAL LIABILITY TO STATES, if an amendment offered by Republican Reps. Dannemeyer (Calif.), Madigan (Ill.), Whittaker (Kansas,) and Ritter (Pa.) is adopted by the House Commerce Subcommittee. The amendment would eliminate joint liability for noneconomic damages and defer to state law the question of joint liability for economic damages. Only a few states disallow joint liability for economic damages. The minority members of the Energy & Commerce Committee on April 28 unveiled a discussion draft containing amendments to Rep. Richardson's (D-N.M.) product liability bill (HR 1115). Richardson's measure eliminates joint liability for noneconomic damages, such as pain and suffering, but retains it for economic damages. Consequently, a defendant only partially responsible for a claimant's harm can be found fully liable for economic damages under HR 1115, but not fully liable for noneconomic damages ("The Pink Sheet" Feb. 23, T&G-1). A hearing on the Richardson bill before Rep. Florio's (D-N.J.) Commerce Subcommittee is scheduled for May 5. Commerce Department Secretary Malcolm Baldrige, Public Citizen, the Consumer Federation of America, Trial Lawyers of America President Robert Habush, and American Bar Association President John Subak are expected to testify. The subcommittee is said to be considering another amendment that would require that tort cases be divided into distinct segments. When litigation is bifurcated or trifurcated, evidence is limited solely to the question of causation, then turns to the separate question of compensation. The question of punitive damages is also separated from compensatory damages.
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