In their last weeks in office, Bush administration officials are urging about fifty federal rules be rewritten to include changes or additions that could block product-safety lawsuits filed by consumers and states. These new rules govern motorcycle brakes to pain medication and will not be able to be undone quickly by the next administration due to a lengthy review process; for example changing rules at the FDA may take a year or more. Depending on the decision involving the issue of pre-emption by the Supreme Court next month, this effort could be one of the Bush administration’s lasting legacies. One concern of the administration is the high number of lawsuits based upon the state “failure to warn” rules, in which some state consumer safety laws are stricter than and conflict with their federal counterpart, which can lead to life-threatening inconsistencies.
This move exemplifies the Bush administration’s efforts to protect business interests, even as trial lawyers and consumer groups point out the danger this will cause. Already this year, lawsuit protection language has been added to ten regulations. Last week, for example, a new regulation issued by the Department of Transportation limits the number of seatbelts car manufacturers are forced to install, while also prohibiting lawsuits filed by passengers injured after not being able to wear one. The United States Chamber of Commerce’s Institute for Legal Reform describes their support of pre-emption as a means to eliminate excessive and frivolous lawsuits filed by plaintiff trial lawyers who are given too much influence over the legal and political systems. However, the American Association for Justice, the trial lawyer’s lobby, is trying to formulate a strategy that will combat this dangerous policy. Though the administration denies any sort of top-down plan to end lawsuits via regulatory changes, a former top official did admit the administration decided to go this route as opposed to pressing the issue in Congress, where they might lose. Next month, the Supreme Court will hear Wyeth v. Levine and decide on the issue of pre-emption.
Here we go again with excessive meddling and intervention by the Bush Administration in matters that should be left alone or left to the states. These “rules” or regulations are nothing more than attempts to protect big business (do we really need more of that given the current state of our economy and country?) from being held accountable for its bad, and sometimes egregious, decisions that sacrifice safety for corporate profits. What happened to “personal (or Corporate) responsibility”? It seems as if the Bush Administration and its supporters (the Chamber of Commerce, for one), while preaching “federalism” and “less government” out of one side of their mouth, do not mind creating more federal government intervention when it suits their collective wallets. Enough already! Have not Mr. Bush and his supporters learned from the ravages forced upon our economy, and our country, by their excessive pro-business policies? Our citizens are not looking for favored status, but merely are looking for a level playing field. That playing field has been tilted more and more in favor of Corporate America over the past 8 years, and Mr. Bush wants to ensure he flips it even more in his last several months. I favor capitalism as much as anybody, but I do not favor giving unfair advantages to those that already have an advantage, at the expense of the average citizen in our country who is harmed unnecessarily. The so-called "frivolous lawsuits" the Chamber of Commerce repeatedly talks about are, in this writer’s humble opinion, mythical; if any such lawsuits are filed, they are mostly taken care of by our judiciary quite summarily. For every "frivolous lawsuit" filed there are more "frivolous defenses" put forth by negligent defendants. The Chamber never talks about the latter. Let’s pray Mr. Bush’s changes do not take place.