Legal Brief: Exxon Sued for Trying to Prevent Oil Spills; Senate to Vote on Product Liability Bill July 7; Fortune 500 to Provide Sex Ed?

Exxon Sued for Trying to Prevent Oil Spills
When it comes to the federal government, it seems you are damned if you do and damned if you don’t. At least that’s the way it seems to some businesses that are trying to comply with the law.

According to the Anchorage Daily News (May 30), after the Exxon Valdez ran aground and dumped 11 millions gallons of oil into Alaska’s Prince William Sound, Exxon restricted any employee with a history of drug or alcohol abuse from 1,500 safety-sensitive jobs. Alcohol use had been linked to the Exxon Valdez oil spill, although the ship’s captain was later cleared by a jury of charges that he was intoxicated on the job.

The Daily News says Exxon was congratulated for its new policy by both the U.S. Department of Justice and the Environmental Protection Agency, but does that mean the federal government approves of the policy?

Apparently not, because the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission now is suing Exxon, saying that the new policy violates the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Exxon goes on trial for attempting to prevent another oil spill on August 3.

Senate to Vote on Product Liability Bill July 7
President Clinton, who in 1996 vetoed the “Common Sense Product Liability Legal Reform Act,” part of the Contract With America, could get another chance to restore at least some fairness to the tort liability system later this year. This time, he may do so.

The Senate is scheduled to vote on S. 648, the Rockefeller-Gorton “Product Liability Reform Act of 1998” on July 7. The bill is the result of intense negotiations between Senators Slade Gorton (R-WA), Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), and the White House. If S. 648 survives a filibuster, as expected, it will go to the House, where Judiciary Committee Chairman Henry Hyde has said it will be voted on more or less intact.

Hyde’s announcement is key because S. 648 is much weaker than Republicans prefer (Senator Gorton says it’s a three on a scale of ten), yet President Clinton is unlikely to sign a bill with stronger reforms. As it is, House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt (D-MO) has told the president he will work against even this weak bill. Despite Senator Rockefeller’s efforts, only a few Senate Democrats are supporting it.

S. 648’s provisions are geared particularly to concerns of small business. They include a $250,000 cap on punitive damages for small business and a drug and alcohol defense, which would bar a claim if a plaintiff was under the influence when an accident occurred and intoxication was the principal cause of the accident. The legislation would also reform laws allowing a person who grossly misuses a product to then sue a defendant with the deepest pockets for recovery.

Tort D’Jour

Fortune 500 to Provide Sex Ed?

From the Washington Times (May 30) comes the tale of a woman who is considering a negligence suit against Pfizer, the maker of the anti-impotence drug Viagra, because her 70-year-old live-in lover left her after taking the drug. Says her attorney: “The makers of Viagra should be liable for something like this. It’s like giving a loaded gun to someone who has not been trained to shoot.”

The National Center for Public Policy Research is a communications and research foundation supportive of a strong national defense and dedicated to providing free market solutions to today’s public policy problems. We believe that the principles of a free market, individual liberty and personal responsibility provide the greatest hope for meeting the challenges facing America in the 21st century.