Consumer Safety, Taking a Back Seat to Litigation

By March 4, 2008Briefly Legal

From today’s Wall Street Journal editorial page, “Lawyers ‘R’ Us“:

Under the latest version of a bill sponsored by Arkansas Democrat Mark Pryor, the Consumer Product Safety Commission is in for a major expansion. The bill would more than double the agency’s budget by 2015, to $155 million from $63 million. Also skyrocketing are civil penalties faced by companies in violation of consumer safety rules. Those would rise to $250,000 from $8,000 for each incident, with a maximum of $20 million for multiple violations.

These figures risk creating a new set of incentives for assorted plaintiffs, with the trial lawyers right behind them. And under a whistleblower provision in the Senate bill, employees could keep from being fired merely by claiming knowledge of a product safety violation. In some cases, they could also sue their employer for up to $250,000 in punitive damages.

Sound fun yet? The Pryor bill would also distribute enforcement power among the nation’s dozens of state Attorneys General. In lieu of consistent national standards, the newly empowered state AGs would be given the green light to file lawsuits and enforce rules against manufacturers based on their own interpretation of consumer product safety laws. Think Eliot Spitzer times 50.

The Journal notes significant improvements in self-policing by toy manufacturers.

The Senate resumes consideration of S. 2663, the Consumer Product Safety Reform Act shortly after 10 a.m. today. We agree with the Journal’s conclusion: ” If Congress must act to appease parental concerns, better to adopt something more like the House bill, which passed unanimously in December. The Senate bill would raise costs for consumers and business, with little benefit in product safety.”

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