NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Jury Awards Threaten Innovation

March 8, 1999

Last Month, a Philadelphia jury awarded a Pennsylvania women and her lawyers $58.5 million in a class action suit stemming from a small burn she received to her hand when the airbag in her Chrysler LeBaron deployed in 1992. Her attorneys plan to ask that all the damages against DaimlerChrysler Corp. be trebled.

Critics warn that such outlandish judgments are discouraging companies from offering advanced safety devices -- out of fear they will be held liable in the event a device malfunctions.

Legal analysts say the DaimlerChrysler verdict punishes Chrysler for saving lives by putting airbags in cars two years ahead of federal mandates -- and sends the message that preventing minor injuries has a higher priority than saving lives.

A top maker of spa pools has decided against making an alarm to alert parents when children enter the pools -- for fear that failure of an alarm would lead parents to sue.

A sports equipment make gave up plans to produce a new, potentially safer hockey helmet -- out of fear of being sued.

Medical device makers are finding supplies for heart valves and joints scarcer because materials suppliers fear being dragged into court.

Source: Editorial, "$58 Million Award for Minor Injury Invites Many Deaths," USA Today, March 8, 1999.


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