Senate Passes Product Liability Bill

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WASHINGTON, D.C.: The Senate passed legislation that would cap damage awards in product-liability lawsuits. Twelve Democrats broke party ranks to vote in favor of the legislation, which passed on a narrow 59 to 40 margin. President Clinton, who previously promised to veto the bill, said "There are some changes that I think are relatively modest that could be made that would permit me to sign it. So I still have some hope." Spokesman Mike McCurry had said yesterday that the White House was working hard to resolve "some very specific concerns" about the bill. Clinton's biggest concern is a provision that puts a ceiling on punitive damage awards. The bill would limit punitive damages to twice a claimant's compensatory damages or $250,000 whichever is greater. Backers of the bill contend it will reduce frivolous lawsuits and create more jobs. Consumer groups and trial lawyers argue punitive damages are consumers only redress against faulty products. The vote was a victory for Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, who had pushed the bill through the Senate as part of his election-year strategy to force President Clinton to pass or veto GOP-favored legislation. Dole Wednesday said that Clinton's opposition stems from his relationship with trial lawyers. "What the president didn't say was that he has been under enormous pressure to veto this measure from the wealthiest and most powerful special interest lobby in America: the trial lawyers," Dole said. "Mr. Clinton has been one of the most favored recipients of their largess. If money talks, this money screams."