May 19, 2009

Rhode Island Law Professor Testifies at Senate Hearing on Holding Foreign Manufacturers Accountable for Defective Products

Washington, D.C. – Rhode Islander Louise Ellen Teitz, a Professor at Roger Williams University School of Law in Bristol, Rhode Island, testified before a Senate subcommittee today about the legal hurdles facing Americans injured by products manufactured outside the United States.

U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Administrative Oversight and the Courts, asked Professor Teitz to share her expertise at the hearing entitled “Leveling the Playing Field and Protecting Americans: Holding Foreign Manufacturers Accountable.”

In his opening statement, Whitehouse cited several recent examples highlighting the need for greater foreign product accountability, including a contaminated blood thinner which last year caused severe medical reactions and contributed to numerous deaths, and a 2006 incident involving a lead-tainted charm bracelet which claimed the life of a 4-year-old. The autopsy demonstrated that the charm was 99 percent lead, 1,650 times more than the 0.06 percent lead limit specified in CPSC enforcement guidelines for children’s jewelry.

“Americans harmed by defective foreign products need justice, and they don’t get it when foreign manufacturers use technical legal defenses to avoid paying damages to the people they have injured,” said Whitehouse, a former U.S. Attorney and Attorney General for Rhode Island.

Professor Teitz, who has taught and written on topics including transnational litigation and private international law for over twenty years, is an expert on both the American legal system and its counterparts abroad. She has studied international law and contributed to its drafting as a member of the State Department’s delegation to key international conventions. Today, Teitz explained why American consumers often are not able to hold foreign manufacturers accountable for injuries they cause, and the competitive disadvantage this creates for American manufacturers who are subject to the American legal system.

“There is an obvious competitive impact on U.S. manufacturers who are sued more easily and cheaply here in the U.S.,” said Teitz.

Chuck Stefan, Vice President of the Mitchell Company, a homebuilder and developer based in Mobile, AL, discussed the problems caused by defective Chinese drywall and the hurdles his company faces in legal proceedings against the manufacturers. Drywall imported from China has recently been found to contain excessively high levels of sulfur, causing houses to smell like rotten eggs, corroding copper wiring, and making expensive appliances fail. Thousands of homes may be affected.

“Foreign manufacturers should not be allowed off the hook for harming U.S. consumers and businesses like ours, especially if they are conducting substantial business here in the U.S,” Stefan said after describing his company’s struggles with the defective drywall.

Also testifying today were Thomas Gowen, a lawyer from Philadelphia, PA, and Victor Schwartz, a lawyer from Washington, D.C. The expert testimony at the hearing will help Whitehouse as he develops legislation that will allow Americans to overcome the legal hurdles to holding foreign manufacturers accountable for the injuries they cause.


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