Innovator Liability Theory Bills Pass House and Senate

The House and Senate today overwhelmingly passed Business Council of Alabama-backed bills that will clarify state law and prohibit damages against an original manufacturer if a product that it did not design and which was made and sold by a different company causes an injury.

The House voted 88-7 to pass an amended HB 110, the innovator liability bill, sponsored by Rep. Jack “J.D.” Williams, R-Vestavia Hills. The Senate 32-0 passed its innovator liability bill version, a substitute to SB 80, sponsored by Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster.

The bills will be transmitted to the opposing houses for consideration.

Innovator liability is a tort theory supported by Alabama Supreme Court rulings in 2013 and 2014 in the Wyeth v. Weeks decisions. The Supreme Court majority ruled that plaintiffs who had never used a brand-name manufacturer’s product could nevertheless sue and be compensated by the brand-name manufacturer.

In its 2015 State Legislative Agenda, the BCA said it will actively work to ensure that manufacturers are not unfairly exposed to liability for products they neither made nor sold.

The BCA believes the current innovator liability theory threatens manufacturers.

“We applaud the Alabama House and Senate for quick consideration and passage of this needed legislation that cures a wrong against the manufacturing industry,” said BCA President and CEO William J. Canary.

Williams said his bill clarifies state law. “The Supreme Court said it believes the Legislature hasn’t been clear on the law,” Williams said.

More than 100 courts and all seven U.S. Courts of Appeals to consider the issue applying the laws of 30 states have rejected the innovator liability theory.

“The BCA supports this legislation to restore Alabama’s long-standing product liability laws so that we are once again in line with the vast majority of states that have rejected the innovator liability theory,” Canary said.

-Dana Beyerle