Faulty Shield: Editorial from N&O

Well, the best thing that can be said about it, this anti-consumer bill of all anti-consumer bills, is that it comes as no surprise. When Republicans took charge of the General Assembly, they vowed to make North Carolina more “business friendly,” which was code for diluting oversight of industry by government.

Now comes, in the state House, the phase of seeing to it that consumers, customers, etc., are left without much recourse should they, for example, be given tainted medicine that makes them sick, or have a child injured because of a faulty bicycle helmet, poisoned by chemicals from a toy, hurt by falling from a badly designed crib.

Nice work. Deregulate so government can’t protect people as it should, and then don’t allow those people to be properly compensated if they’re hurt by products that slipped through the cracks.

This legislation is a disgrace, all in the name of being “business friendly” or any other such label the Republicans care to put on it.

Part of this proposal would give immunity from lawsuits for any product that has been approved by any government regulator. See the strategy? “Well,” goes the illogic of those who would wound the public, “the government approved this, so you know, it must not be the manufacturer’s fault that your 3-year-old’s tricycle fell apart going down that hill.”

And remember that a lot of this deregulation stuff is being pushed by the same people who came to office attacking government as not able to do anything right. But now they’re saying that if government gave a stamp of approval, then the person who took pills that were contaminated or bought that bicycle helmet that didn’t prevent injury the way the manufacturer said it would are just out of luck. Got to protect business, don’t you know. And they seem to have developed supreme confidence in government.

Trial lawyers, who have been demonized by the pro-business lobby, note that under the immunity bill, virtually every product would be protected. Or as the CEO of a state trial lawyers group, Dick Taylor, put it, the bill “favors perpetrators of harm to others at the expense of innocent North Carolinians who in no way caused the injury to themselves.” Let’s acknowledge, of course, that trial lawyers do have a self-interest here, and that some have filed “frivolous lawsuits” seeking a quick buck from a company’s insurer – although safeguards in the judicial system make that much more difficult than it used to be.

A government stamp of approval on products may be reassuring to consumers, but it isn’t an unqualified guarantee. Things go wrong in the manufacturing process that can’t be detected without widget-by-widget inspections that are not practical. Companies make mistakes. In fact, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that lawsuits can be filed in state courts even if a drug, for example, that allegedly harmed someone has been approved by federal regulators.

This proposal is part of the larger effort to limit punitive damages in lawsuits, and to make it more difficult to bring such suits. The state Senate already approved a malpractice measure that makes it far harder to sue emergency room doctors who make mistakes and that caps some damages.

How nice for manufacturers that they have friends in the majority on Jones Street. One hopes the constituents of that majority will one day demand that it become, for a change, “people friendly.”

Source: News & Observer