There’s a renewed legislative push to maintain the innocence of sellers whose products end up being deemed “defective.”

The Innocent Sellers Fairness Act (H.R. 1199) was introduced in the House of Representatives in March by Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Texas, who also sponsored the bill in 2013. A version of the bill has been in the House since 2007.

“When a product causes harm, liability should rest with the creators of the product and those in the stream of commerce whose actions or negligence could have led to the harm,” Farenthold says. “Unfortunately, plaintiffs today can and do sue innocent sellers of a product simply because they are an easier target for litigation. The Innocent Sellers Fairness Act seeks to eliminate this practice by removing those innocent sellers and retailers from the products liability chain. This bill will promote the free flow of goods and services and prevent consumers from having to foot the bill for these lawsuits by way of higher prices.”

The bill would make it so that no seller of any product would be liable for damages, except in the following cases:

  • The seller was the manufacturer of the product;
  • The seller participated in the design of the product;
  • The seller participated in the installation of the product;
  • The seller altered, modified or expressly warranted the product in a manner not authorized by the manufacturer;
  • The seller had actual knowledge of the defect in the product as a result of a recall from the manufacturer or governmental entity authorized to make such recall or actual inspection at the time the seller sold the product to the claimant;
  • The seller had actual knowledge of the defect in the product at the time the seller supplied the product;
  • The seller intentionally altered or modified a product warranty, warning or instruction from the manufacturer in a way not authorized by the manufacturer; and
  • The seller knowingly made a false representation about an aspect of the product not authorized by the manufacturer.

The bill seems to be gaining traction, though it has yet to make it to a committee. It originally had five co-sponsors; now it has 12, all of whom are Republicans.

The National Lumber and Building Material Dealers Association (NLBMDA) has put its strong support behind the bill.

“Frivolous legal actions brought against lumber dealers cost time and money that could be better spent on their businesses,” says chairman JD Saunders, vice president at Economy Lumber in Campbell, Calif. “Dealers should not have to choose between fighting a frivolous lawsuit or accepting a settlement agreement to make it go away; the Innocent Sellers Fairness Act helps address this problem.”

It’s also supported by other powerful associations, such as the National Association of Wholesaler-Distributors, National Federation of Independent Business, National Retail Federation and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Do you think sellers should be held liable for defective products? Leave your thoughts below.

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