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March 11, 2006

Criminal Penalties for Defective Products?

The Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on March 10th to consider a proposal that would create criminal sanctions for "knowingly introducing a defective product into the stream of interstate commerce."  The proposal was supported in a statement by Senator Patrick Leahy and in testimony by the Consumers Union.  Both argued that strict civil liability for defective products and enhanced whistleblower statutes are not enough to prevent product manufactuers from putting and keeping defective products on the market.  Leahy cited Vioxx as an example.  The proposal is opposed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers, and the American Tort Reform Association, all of whom cite the difficulty of defining the criminal act with sufficient objectivity.  The opponents acknowlege that the proposal is well-intended but observe that "knowing" a product to be "defective" is an inherently subjective judgment.  They also cite as another serious drawback to the proposal the liklihood that, to the extent Fifth Amendment rights are exercised, plaintiffs in civil proceedings will have to wait until criminal proceedings have run their course, perhaps many years, before obtaining compensation for injuries.

JDP

March 11, 2006 | Permalink

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