The Criminalization of Products Liability: An Invitation to Political Abuse, Preemption, and Non-Enforcement
Frank J. Vandall
Emory University School of Law
January, 14 2009
Catholic University Law Review, Vol. 57, No. 1, 2008
Senator Arlen Specter called a hearing in March 2006, on a proposal that urges the criminalization of products liability for the manufacture of intentionally lethal goods. The hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee provided an opportunity to comment on the numerous issues raised in the far-reaching proposal. Responding to these issues requires revisiting the foundational question of whether the manufacture and sale of a defective product should be addressed by civil litigation or criminal prosecution. Understanding the issues will assist state legislatures and federal agencies in considering such a proposal. To plumb the issues raised by Senator Specter history, economics, and the system of product design and manufacture must be examined. Because Senator Specter argues for a federal act and federal enforcement, his proposal demands consideration of the concepts of preemption, political abuse, and nonenforcement. Fundamental concepts of cause-in-fact and proximate cause must also be considered. After examining these concepts, it should be clear that the criminalization of products liability is neither necessary, nor desirable.
Keywords: Criminal law, Ford Pinto, products liability, federal crime, Senator Specter, lethal product, manufacturer, seller, prosecution, political abuse, punitive damages, corporate crimes, Senate Judiciary Committee, tort, economics, product design, nonenforcement, cause in fact, proximate cause
Date posted: January 19, 2009