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Letters 11-17-2014

by Dr. Buono in the November 10 Northern Express. While I applaud your enthusiasm embracing a market solution for global climate change and believe that this is a vital piece of the overall approach, it is almost laughable and at least naive to believe that your Representative Mr.

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Faulty Toys Are Not a Game

George Thompson - November 29th, 2007
The massive toy and product recalls from China during 2007 should cause Michigan residents to thoughtfully reconsider the legal “reforms” that have been instituted by Chief Justice Taylor and other very conservative Republicans. Michigan residents are already paying the price for the special favors that have been granted to donors by conservative extremists, yet the Chamber of Commerce continues to steer seven–figure contributions to Justice Taylor and his companions, and to urge additional legal “reforms” that would benefit their special interests.
Although there are many anti–consumer 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 offshore–most of it to China. Eighty percent of our SUV tires. Three–quarters 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 lead–coated Halloween teeth and children’s jewelry, tires that lack blow–out protection, and “Aqua–Dots” 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 don’t know is that the Chinese government won’t allow Americans to sue Chinese manufacturers. Since Michigan is the only state that doesn’t 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 long–term 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 aren’t 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 in–state 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 don’t 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 FDA–approved drugs. Our state is the only one which grants immunity to drug manufacturers for any drug that has been approved–even 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 rights–and of justice for that matter–for 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 Chinese–style 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 citizenry–including victims, taxpayers and manufacturers–of 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 pocket–books of their corporate sponsors.
 
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