Although there are many anticonsumer reforms, I would point readers to only two reforms as examples. The first is the elimination of retail responsibility for defective products. Everyone realizes today that we have diverted almost our entire manufacturing base offshoremost of it to China. Eighty percent of our SUV tires. Threequarters of our childrens toys. Virtually all of the cribs sold in this country and many of the components of our prescription drugs. All of these products have resulted in huge recalls this year, and most were made in China. They include significant health and safety risks like leadcoated Halloween teeth and childrens jewelry, tires that lack blowout protection, and AquaDots childrens games coated with the GHB drug. The latter game has just recently appeared on the market and has already sent five children to the hospital with seizures.
What most Michigan residents dont know is that the Chinese government wont allow Americans to sue Chinese manufacturers. Since Michigan is the only state that doesnt allow lawsuits against retailers, Michigan consumers injured by defective products are denied any form of compensation. As a result, if the victims injuries are serious enough, taxpayers are forced to pay their medical expenses, and for rehabilitation and perhaps also pay for their longterm care (or the care of their surviving dependants). The problem goes beyond a denial of compensation, however. Since retailers are not subject to lawsuits, they have less incentive to select or screen for safer products. In addition, since they arent subject to liability, they no longer have an incentive to demand that suppliers purchase insurance to protect their customers (and themselves) from the impact of a defective product.
In the past and in other states, large retailers such as Kmart who faced potential legal responsibility for a defective product, pressured their suppliers to purchase liability insurance. As a result, a system was in place to compensate victims and to spread the cost of a product error among all purchasers.
Today, no one who can or should pay for the consequences of a defective product can be reached through the Michigan Courts. Even worse, though, at a time when our jobs are scattering overseas, this system places an extra burden on instate manufacturers that Chinese manufacturers do not bear. Since local manufacturers remain responsible for their mistakes, and since our legislature and Chinese government have conspired to eliminate recourse to the Chinese, we have handed one more competitive advantage to the Chinese: they dont even have to pay the few cents per product that it would cost to buy insurance.
A similar Michigan disadvantage arising out of liability reform relates to FDAapproved drugs. Our state is the only one which grants immunity to drug manufacturers for any drug that has been approvedeven if the approval is based on fraud or a failure to disclose significant safety concerns. When Vioxx agreed to pay almost 5 billion dollars to the 26,000 people who claimed myocardial infarctions or strokes caused by the drug, no Michigan victims were allowed a day in court: the manufacturer, Merck, is immune from suit here because the drug was initially approved by the FDA without disclosure of the safety concerns Merck had already identified. The extremists in our Legislature and Supreme Court have refused to address the ultimate fairness or reasonableness of these reforms. Is it because the courts are clogged with product liability or personal injury cases?
Not according to statistics recently published by the Circuit Courts in Michigan.
Counting all injury trials for the calendar year 2006, there were fewer than 350 trials, total, in the entire State fewer than four per county, average. In 2002, there were three product liability trials in Michigan. In 2003 there were six. In 04 there were seven; there were five in 2005 and five in 2006. In other words, every 20 years or so, each of the 83 counties in the State has to take a week or two to try a product liability case.This is not an unreasonable burden on the courts: all personal case filings total less than one percent of the Courts total work load.
These humble statistics do not justify a public policy that deprives citizens of important rightsand of justice for that matterfor the sake of commerce. Do you think American manufacturers gain significant insurance relief because there is one state, out of fifty, where they cannot be sued? All manner of products are safer, today, because we allowed consumer victims recourse against dangerous products. Are we sacrificing that protection for a Chinesestyle Augean Stable where product liability means the execution of some government executive after defects are discovered to have caused injury and death?
It is clear that we should make public policy decisions that do not deprive our citizenryincluding victims, taxpayers and manufacturersof basic rights to a day in court on the basis of ignorance. As matters stand currently, our manufacturers, injury victims and taxpayers are being sacrificed on an altar of demagoguery because of cash contributions from the insurance industry and the Chamber of Commerce. Common sense solutions, individual rights and sound public policies are being rejected by career politicians who pander to the pocketbooks of their corporate sponsors.