Thursday, January 1, 2009

Dangerous Chinese Products--Ohio Law Protects Them

A happy and hopefully prosperous New Year to all. The New Year got me thinking about the Chinese New Year, and which animal will be represented as their 2009 symbol. That, in turn, made me think about all the recent news stories about dangerous Chinese products that continue to find their way into the U.S. Here's a short list of what we've seen recently:

Poisonous toothpaste. Kids' jewelry and metal toys loaded with toxic lead. Food contaminated with pesticides, carcinogens, and bacteria. Contaminated heparin. Even poisonous pet food that killed 39,000 animals. All these products had two things in common: they were made in China and consumed or used in the U.S.

According to a recent report from the Consumer Product Safety Commission, "the value of U.S. imports of consumer products manufactured in China was $246 billion, comprising approximately 40% of all consumer products imported into the U.S."

What if a dangerous product injured a child in Ohio? Under recent "tort reform" laws passed by Ohio lawmakers in 2005, Chinese manufacturers would enjoy numerous legal protections, including limits on what injured Ohio victims could recover. Chinese manufacturers' liability would be capped or limited to figures as low as 350,000. And their liability for punitive damages (damages designed to punish for willfully ignoring product safety concerns) would be limited to two times the amount of "compensatory damages" (items like medical bills or physical pain and disfigurement).

Worse yet, they could be 100% IMMUNE from punitive damages if the product causing harm was manufactured in accordance with applicable FDA standards.

One large problem however: The FDA in a recent report has acknowledged that:

many products come from countries with little ability to provide the regulatory oversight needed to assure the safety of the products exported; and
lax oversight in many foreign places presents opportunities for products to be unintentionally contaminated, or intentionally contaminated by those who mean harm, by counterfeiters, or by those who try to profit by "cutting corners."

In fact, the situation is so bad that the FDA set up a special program to take extra measures to try to ensure that Chinese manufacturers produce safer products. But we all realize now that dangerous products, food, and medicines are still making their way into the hands of U.S. consumers.

So why on earth should foreign manufacturers enjoy limited liability in Ohio for producing dangerous products? Because numerous business groups like the Ohio and U.S. Chamber of Commerce, The Ohio Manufacturers' Association, The Ohio Society of CPA's and insurance companies spent millions lobbying for Ohio products liability reforms for ALL manufacturers "to improve our legal climate." And these laws as passed protect ANY domestic or foreign manufacturers, even bad ones that cut corners on product safety and expose us to all sorts of life threatening risks. Nice to know that this is what our Legislature has been up to recently, isn't it?

Unfortunately, nobody will notice or even care about this issue until one of these products causes a tragedy to an Ohio family. And then you can expect people to be shocked and outraged at the idea that bad manufacturers are somehow protected by Ohio law. I wonder if these lobbying groups (and the politicians who voted for these laws) will then say that protecting these companies is "good for Ohioans."

Which animal is representing the 2009 Chinese New Year? Ironically, it's the ox. So whose ox is really being gored here?


Anonymous said...

Great information Brian. Where do the firms that broker these items to the end-users (their clients) in Ohio stand in any potential law suits?

Anonymous said...

Great information Brian. Where does this leave the firms that broker these products manufactured in China stand with any potential law suits?

Wiles Law said...

It's really great that you have a blog and can inform the public about these types of cases.