Few issues stir the blood of the business world today more than product liability law reform.
After years of struggle, the forces that want to check the cost of product liability litigation smell victory. The Republican majority in the House and Senate seem to assure that business finally will get relief from the overwhelming suits that threaten their very existence.
Or do they?
An interesting fact came to light when one of our reporters researched a story for this issue, examining the product liability situation. He found that while tire and rubber companies march lockstep with business in general in its campaign for liability reform, it seems only two sectors of the industry have any significant experience with product liability cases-tire and medical goods makers.
The Product Liability Coordinating Committee, a Washington group supporting federal product liability law reform, offers plenty of frightening information about the issue: that U.S. industry spends $80 billion to $117 billion annually in product liability litigation; a survey indicating executives hold back product introductions out of fear of liability claims; the fact that American companies can be sued over products they made in the last century.
There also are many horror stories available about obviously unfair liability judgments. The Goodyear suit described in our story-where Goodyear lost a $6 million jury verdict, only to find out later of major holes in the plaintiff's testimony-is even worse than the famous ``McDonald's Coffee Spill'' suit.
And medical goods issues like allergic reaction to natural rubber latex, silicone breast implants and nitrosamines in baby bottle nipples have placed companies that make these items on the product liability firing line.
But your average rubber shop, the typical auto parts supplier, the industrial rubber goods maker? To them, product liability isn't much of an issue. Apparently, component manufacturers have been protected from the trial lawyers by the lack of visibility of their products-and the fact they don't have the ``deep pockets'' of the tire manufacturers or the rubber and chemical suppliers, which serve as bait for the legal profession.
Tire companies and the various trade associations and lobbyists they support may have good reason to seek product liability reform, but it seems other rubber industry sectors are just along for the ride.
And for that they should be grateful.