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California SB 1429 Would Restrict Manufacturers' Liability for Punitive Damages

SB 1429 Leaves Effectively Leaves Plaintiffs on the Hook for Manufacturer's Preventable Conduct

SACRAMENTO, CA -- May 5, 2006 -- A California bill would greatly limit the liability of manufacturers who produce dangerous products. Specifically, SB 1429 prohibits California courts from assessing punitive damages when a product causes an injury, provided the product meets current government laws and regulations.

Unfortunately, however, meeting government standards provides no guarantee that a product is safe or that a company has acted honorably. For example, the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the blockbuster painkiller, Vioxx®, in 1999, but the drug was taken off the market in 2004 because it led to heart attacks and strokes. In three court trials, jurors found that Merck, Vioxx®'s manufacturer, knew about the hazards of the drug, yet kept that information from the doctors and the general public. Another loophole for manufacturers is that current government laws and regulations are often the result of compromises made by the lobbying efforts of the very same companies that are being regulated. These laws and regulations may therefore be outdated and inadequate to protect consumers.

The Importance of Punitive Damages

Punitive damages are amounts intended to punish a defendant for reckless or malicious conduct, and to deter similar future actions. They are often used in cases of severe injury. "Punitive damages are the only effective deterrent consumers have against corporations that place profits over people's lives," comments Consumer Attorneys of California (CAOC). Companies often weigh the potential costs of liability to determine whether a defective product should be redesigned or removed from the market. For example, dangerous products such as the Ford Pinto and the Dalkon Shield IUD may have been removed from the market because of the threat of punitive damages.

SB 1429 is backed by Chevron, a company that is attempting to shield itself from liability for contaminating drinking water with the hazardous gasoline additive, MTBE. The bill is also being promoted by other large oil companies and by manufacturers of defective products.

SB 1429 applies to all consumer products, including automobiles, chemicals, and prescription drugs. The bill is retroactive. This means that if SB 1429 passes, California lawsuits that are pending at that time would be subject to its punitive damage restrictions.

We Urge a NO Vote on California SB 1429

Brayton Purcell is against SB 1429, an unfair bill that would harm injured plaintiffs and enrich corporate wrongdoers. If you are a California resident, we urge you to contact your state representatives and request that they vote NO on this legislation.

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