In a move lauded by consumer groups and attacked by business organizations, President Clinton vetoed a bipartisan bill Thursday that sought to limit the amount of money juries can award people injured by faulty business products.
Clinton conceded that some such reform was necessary, but insisted the version Congress passed “would hurt families without truly improving our legal system.”
His veto spotlighted a seemingly arcane bit of Washington business that has powerful special interest groups lined up on both sides of the issue. Sponsors of the measure concede they lack the two-thirds majorities needed to override Clinton’s veto.
Sen. Bob Dole, the apparent Republican nominee for president, said Clinton’s veto proved “it is the trial lawyers who are calling the shots at the White House.”
Trial lawyers fought hard to defeat the product-liability reform bill, and lawyers gave Clinton’s re-election campaign $2.5 million in the first nine months of 1995, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a watchdog group that monitors campaign financial records.
Democrats charged that the bill was a Republican payoff to big tobacco companies, which would win some insulation from costly lawsuits by it.
The bill would have limited jury awards intended to punish businesses for negligence in making and selling faulty products.
Punitive awards would be limited to $250,000, or to two times the amount of damages suffered - such as from lost wages - whichever was greater.
Its rules would have governed product liability lawsuits in state and federal courts.