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Y2K lawsuits pose business threat

MBJ Editorial

In the midst of near-apocalyptic hysteria, what should Mississippi’s businesses fear most about Y2K?

Lawsuits.

As if the business community did not have enough to worry about — tough competition, tight labor market, burdensome taxes, and, oh yes, frivolous lawsuits — along comes the prospect of one more sorry ambulance for litigious-happy attorneys to chase. Hopefully, when the clocks imbedded in the computers running the world’s utility infrastructure, banking and finance networks, traffic signals, pacemakers and all other manner of digital devices roll over to 2000, nothing of great significance will result. No blackouts. No food shortages. No riots, pestilence or Mad Max.

But just in case all is not well and the Y2K genie is unleashed, businesses should be prepared. They should be protected, too.

Last week, an important piece of legislation — the Y2K Act — was passed by the U.S. Senate and is now in House-Senate conference to work out differences before the bill is sent to the White House. The bill was passed with bipartisan support, and U.S. Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Thomas J. Donohue called the passage in the Senate “a huge victory for business and the economy.”

According to a press release from Donohue’s office in Washington, the Y2K Act (S. 96) would: encourage potential defendants to fix Y2K problems quickly before a lawsuit is filed, while assuring those with actual damages that they can recover fully; allow many defendants to be liable only for their portion of the fault; and limit punitive damages for small businesses. The legislation would also cover state and local governments and non-profit organizations.

“The Y2K bill will allow businesses to put their money into fixing the problem rather than spend it paying lawyers to deal with frivolous litigation,” Donohue said.

Clearly, it is in the nation’s best economic interest to limit outrageous litigation in any situation, and adoption of the Y2K Act would be a significant tool in the fight against frivolous lawsuits.

“The President and Vice President have a clear choice: support the American economy, millions of small businesses and high-tech entrepreneurs, or support a group of trial lawyers looking to get rich off Y2K problems. It’s a very simple choice,” Donohue said.

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