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‘Fair and just legal system’ on line, so Barbour vetoes HB 1240

The recently released study “U.S. Tort Reliability Index: 2008 Report” lists Mississippi as a “saint.”

That means the state’s business climate is healthy and not heavily burdened by lawsuits.

The Index lists Alabama as a “sinner.” Arkansas is “salvageable.”

The Pacific Research Institute compiled the report, which aims to connect tort reform with job creation. Mississippi, which ranked ninth out of the 50 states, was put there by the tort reform legislation passed in 2004, an event that left business groups and trade associations rejoicing and plaintiffs’ attorneys in mourning.

The top 10 of the Index is a fine place to be, according to the 2006 version of the same report, which said states ranked 10th or higher experienced job growth at a rate 57% higher than states outside the top 10.

In short, Mississippi, probably a sinner in the eyes of the PRI before tort reform, has sought and, apparently, gained redemption.

Straight and narrow path

And staying on the path of economic righteousness was the goal when he vetoed House Bill 1240 April 3, said Gov. Haley Barbour.

The bill, named the Children’s Product Safety Act, would have allowed claims for alleged defective children’s products to be filed under the Mississippi Consumer Protection Act (MCPA), which has differing standards than Mississippi’s existing products liability laws that are designed to protect consumers and manufacturers.

In a press release issued after his veto, Barbour said the bill would “negate Mississippi’s fair and just legal system by setting up a separate, poorly defined scheme for alleged defective children’s products without indicating what, if any, of the provisions of our state’s existing products liability laws would apply.” Barbour also balked at the bill’s failure to define the term “children’s products.” He did, however, urge legislators to reconsider some of the bill’s “positive merits.”

“I support the creation of a list of defective children’s products, and this list should be made available at no cost and over the Internet to the general public, daycare facilities, family childcare homes and licensed pediatricians.”

The bill came out of the Legislature in response to the revelation last year that China had been sending to the U.S. toys that contained higher-than-acceptable lead contents.

As is the case with nearly every political issue on which a side can be taken, Attorney General Jim Hood took the one opposite Barbour.

Hood urges override

“This bill is designed to get the lead out of children’s toys,” Hood said in a statement. “Gov. Haley Barbour sold out Mississippi’s children for big business and their Chinese imports. It’s time to get the lead out. I urge the Legislature to override his veto of HB 1240.

“The bill would make no changes in tort reform. Innocent sellers are already protected under the Mississippi Consumer Protection Act. Some of the nine million products recalled by Mattell last year contained 110,000 ppm (parts per million) of lead, yet the federal maximum is 600 ppm.”

Among the 20 million products recalled last year that resulted in 400,000 injuries to children, according to Hood and backed up by data from the Web site of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, were Curious George Dolls, jewelry clasps, sunglasses, toy cars, Thomas the Train toys and religious fish jewelry. The lead was in the paint of some toys, in the plastic of others.

The lack of a hard and fast definition for “children’s product” was the impetus for the Mississippi State Medical Association (MSMA) to support Barbour’s veto. MSMA president Dr. Dwalia D. South of Ripley said the lack of a definition would “create a murky legal path that would actually make it more difficult to successfully seek damages caused by a defective product.”

“Our children are our most precious asset, and we want to do everything we can to protect them. But we recognize that HB 1240 is no the way to do it …”

Contact MBJ staff writer Clay Chandler at clay.chandler@ msbusiness.com .


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