Holding Foreign Manufacturers Liable for Product Injuries

Holding foreign manufacturers accountable for the injuries caused by their dangerous or defective products can be difficult for injured consumers in Illinois and across the country. Congress is currently considering legislation – the Foreign Manufacturers Legal Accountability Act – intended to make recovering compensation from these manufacturers more feasible.

The proposed bill, HR 4678, would require manufacturers that import products into the U.S. to have a registered agent to accept service of process for the manufacturer. The legislation would apply to a broad range of "covered products" regulated by federal agencies, including consumer products, pesticides and other chemicals, cosmetics and motor vehicles. A foreign manufacturer could to be sued in U.S. courts for injuries caused by these products, and would be prohibited from importing covered products if there is no registered agent in place.

The Motivation Behind the Foreign Manufacturers Legal Accountability Act

One of the catalysts for introducing the bill in Congress was the widespread problems caused by defective Chinese drywall. The toxic substances in tainted drywall sickened many people and caused considerable damage to their homes. Public outcry grew when ailing homeowners found out that the Chinese manufacturers could not be sued under U.S. law. Seeking recourse against builders, importers and distributors is not as effective if the manufacturers are not also parties to the litigation.

Some U.S. lobbying groups have concerns about the proposed legislation. American manufacturers fear that the new law would invite retaliation by foreign governments against U.S. manufacturers seeking to sell products abroad. Another possibility is that the law would have the effect of reducing options for U.S. consumers, if foreign companies find the agent registration requirements too costly and choose to leave the U.S. market.

To an injured person, however, these concerns are not of paramount importance. For too long, foreign manufacturers have had the benefits of access to the U.S. market without the responsibilities that should go along with it. To be sure, it may not be easy for a U.S. court or government agency to enforce a judgment against a foreign manufacturer. But the Foreign Manufacturers Legal Accountability Act would certainly enhance the available legal options for doing so.

The proposed Act appears to have a good chance of passing this year. It already passed in the House of Representatives by the Energy and Committee on July 21. A companion bill, S. 1606, sponsored by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, awaits action in the Senate.