Lawmakers consider product liability protection for Iowa retailers

DES MOINES — A bill to provide new product liability protection to Iowa retailers and manufacturers has cleared its first hurdle in the House, but Republican lawmakers say it will only apply to retailers if it’s brought up for a vote in a House committee.

The bill in its original form bars most lawsuits over faulty products if the product or its components cleared government safety reviews. Brad Hartkopf is a lobbyist for the Iowa Association of Business and Industry, which represents 1500 companies in the state. He testified this morning during a House subcommittee hearing on the bill.

“Federal agencies promulgate extensive rules and requirements for products,” Hartkopf said. “…Manufacturers expend extraordinary resources and time to ensure that the products they produce meet those standards.”

Doug Struyk, a lobbyist for the Iowa Bar Association, said there are all sorts of products that were deemed safe by federal agencies, only to later be declared dangerous or defective.

“And the Boeing 737 Max — how many times has the FAA stamped that thing as safe?” Struyk asked lawmakers. “…I guess we were lucky no one was injured when we blew out the door a week or two ago.”

Lisa Davis-Cook is a lobbyist for the Iowa Association for Justice that represents trial lawyers. Davis-Cook told lawmakers she was 11 years old, attending a 4-H meeting in Clinton County, when the home’s furnace exploded and she suffered burns over 25 percent of her body.

“The company that manufactured the furnace and the company that manufactured the valve were fully cognizant of the fact that that valve was faulty. They knew there was a problem and it was cheaper to keep that product on the market than to recall it and keep people safe,” Davis-Cook said. “…What this bill does is it tells companies: ‘As long as you’ve met safety standards, even though you find out later that it’s faulty, don’t worry about it.’”

Representative John Wills of Spirit Lake, one of the Republicans working on the bill, said he has “no desire to grant immunity to manufacturers,” but is interested in some liability protection for Iowa retailers, as long as they don’t do anything negligent.