The cost of excessive, unnecessary and frivolous lawsuits is added by manufacturers, distributors and retailers to the price consumers pay for products. This “tort tax” costs American consumers billions of dollars each year.
Over the years, the Texas Legislature has addressed abuses in product liability litigation by passing a number of common-sense laws to allow consumers who are sold a defective product to have their day in court, while curtailing the ability of lawyers to pursue abusive lawsuits.
2003: Product Liability Reform
Before 2003, retailers were often sued for injuries allegedly caused by defective products, despite the fact that the retailers had nothing to do with the design or manufacturing that caused the defect. In many instances, the lawsuits against retailers were used to establish venue in a favorable county. House Bill 4, passed by the Legislature in 2003, included an “innocent retailers” defense, providing that a retailer who does nothing more than acquire a product and sell it to the customer cannot be held liable for a defect in the product. If, on the other hand, the retailer modifies the product, it can be held liable for an injury caused by the product.
House Bill 4 also established a “government standards” defense for manufacturers that comply with all state and federal standards or regulations applicable to their product. The defense is available when there is a mandatory government standard that applies to the aspect of the product that allegedly caused the harm, and if that standard is adequate to protect the public from risk. Under Texas law since 2003, a government standards defense has been available to manufacturers of a variety of products, including pharmaceuticals.
1999: Lawsuits Against Firearms Manufacturers
In the past, some state and local governments threatened or pursued lawsuits against firearms manufacturers, asserting that legally purchased firearms or ammunition are a nuisance to society or are inherently dangerous products. In 1999, the Texas Legislature passed Senate Bill 717, banning lawsuits by local governments against firearm manufacturers and sellers alleging that the lawful design, manufacturing, marketing or sale of firearms or ammunition to the public is unreasonably dangerous or created a public nuisance. The statute allows the Texas Attorney General to bring such a lawsuit on behalf of any state or local government, and allows a local government to pursue such a lawsuit if approved in advance by the Legislature.