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PRODUCT LIABILITY BILL PASSES SENATE COMMERCE COMMITTEE

Executive Summary

PRODUCT LIABILITY BILL PASSES SENATE COMMERCE COMMITTEE by a 16-4 vote at a Nov. 9 markup. The legislation (S 687), cosponsored by Sens. Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), Gorton (R-Wash.) and others, will be referred to the Judiciary Committee and then to the Senate floor. The Commerce Committee has considered product liability reform legislation throughout the last decade but rarely has a bill reached the Senate floor. Last year, the legislation tallied 59 votes, one short of breaking a filibuster, and Rockefeller has said the Senate leadership had to persuade a number of senators to change their votes to preserve the block ("The Pink Sheet" Sept. 20, 1992, T&G-11). This year, the West Virginia Democrat asserted, the measure has broader support, and the 16-4 Commerce vote may be a sign of greater momentum: the committee has reported the bill out with votes of 13-7 and closer in years past. The four votes against S 687 were cast by Sens. Hollings (D-S.C.), Breaux (D-La.), Bryan (D-Nev.) and Kerry (D-Mass.). The Judiciary Committee is expected to oppose the bill but can delay its progress for no more than 90 days after the Commerce Committee issues its report Supporters of the legislation anticipate consideration by the full Senate in early 1994. As in previous years, the measure contains a provision to protect from punitive damages manufacturers of products considered safe and effective by FDA. No action has been taken on House companion bills (HR 1910, HR 1954), respectively sponsored by Reps. Rowland (D-Ga.) and Roth (R-Wis.). However, hearings are expected to be scheduled early in the second session. The Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Association and other health care groups are meeting Nov. 22 to continue work on a tort reform proposal. PMA joined with the Health Industry Manufacturers Association, the American Medical Association and the Health Insurance Association of America earlier this year to push for product liability and medical malpractice reform.
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