The Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. is urging members to lobby for a bill that would put the first-ever time limit on product-liability lawsuits against machinery manufacturers. An SPI official said House Resolution 2005 stands a good chance of becoming a law because it focuses only on capital equipment.
"In the past, [the machinery limit] has been part of a broader product-liability bill, and had no chance to pass," said Debi Richardson, manager of government affairs on safety and health issues for Washington-based SPI.
Previous efforts have included everything from medical implants to asbestos.
SPI issued an urgent message for companies to contact members of Congress and support HR-2005, dubbed the Workplace Goods Job Growth and Competitiveness Act, by Feb. 1 — a day before debate is to begin in the House.
The bill, also called the Manufacturing Equipment Revitalization Act, would establish an 18-year statute of repose for capital goods used in the workplace. That means no product-liability action could be filed after a period of 18 years, starting with the delivery date of the new machine.
The 18-year cap would apply only to people who have received, or are eligible to receive, workers' compensation. People not eligible for workers' compensation still could sue, according to SPI.
Equipment makers complain that the current situation — with no time limit for lawsuits — is unfair and hurts their competitiveness. Even though processors often modify older machines, injured workers usually end up naming the original manufacturer in lawsuits, they say.
A blow molding machinery maker, Rocheleau Tool & Die Co. Inc. in Fitchburg, Mass., took action Jan. 20, the day SPI issued its alert, according to Richardson.
Steven Rocheleau, vice president of sales, said the company sent letters to five representatives in Massachusetts and New Hampshire.
"Product liability of any manufacturing is a tremendously big issue for us, especially as a small machine builder," Rocheleau said. "Ensuring against liability is a big cost factor for us. You couple that with the fact that we've been building machinery for over 35 years, and we're held liable today for equipment that's been built 35 years ago."