The Senate is today considering a controversial bill that looks
to limit lawsuit costs arising from the Year 2000 technology problem.
The bill could be approved by the Senate as soon as today,
Senate staffers said.
Crafted by Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona), who is chairman of the Committee on Commerce, Science, and
Transportation, and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon), also a member of the
Commerce committee, the bill would curb so-called millennium bug suits
against computer, software, and other technology companies.
As demanded by Wyden and other Democrats, the new bill would give small
business owners and consumers more leeway in court if the glitch strikes
their computers next January 1.
Late yesterday, the bill, S.96 - the "Y2K Act," made it to the Senate floor for the first time and, as
expected, sparked heated debate before it was moved for further discussion
Sen. Fritz Hollings (D-South Carolina) outlined one of the major gripes by
many in his party that the bill engages in tort reform rather than limiting
"No one can deny there cannot be a glitch on January 1 of the year 2000.
However, there is not really a problem that would cause us to try to change
tort law. That is what is in the offing here," said Hollings.
Hollings argued that consumers and business owners would rather find a fix
to their computers than go to court and be engaged for years awaiting
a judge or jury's decision.
"So I thought, fine, let's get together on what could be called a glitch.
Nobody wants to go to court. Give them some time to fix the glitch, and then
move on in the business world," said Hollings. "However, we have some
friends down at the National Chamber of Commerce who are really bent on
actually trying to pass product liability and do away with trial by jury and
all the other State tort systems."
McCain said his bill is not tort reform but a measured way to prevent
frivolous lawsuits regarding the Year 2000 computer problem, and he offered
an amendment to the bill that Democrats on his committee had requested.
The amendment provides for "proportional liability in most cases, with
exceptions for fraudulent or intentional conduct, or where the
plaintiff has limited assets," said McCain. It protects governmental
entities, including municipalities, schools, fire, water, and sanitation
districts, from punitive damages.
The amendment eliminates limits on punitive damage for "egregious conduct,"
while providing some protection against runaway punitive damage awards. And
it provides protection for those not directly involved in a Y2K failure.
"It is my hope that S.96 will be the catalyst for technology producers to
work with technology users to ensure a seamless transition from the 1990s to
the year 2000. The goal is to make January 1 a nonevent."
McCain added that the purposes of this legislation is to ensure that the
nation solve the Y2K technology glitch rather than clog our courts with
years of costly litigation. "The purpose is to ensure a continued, stable
economy, which obviously is beneficial to everyone in our country."
Since its inception the "Y2K Act" has been backed by
Republicans and criticized by the White
House, and Senate Democrats.
Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Connecticut), a leading Democrat and vice chairman of the
Senate Special Committee on the Year
2000 Technology Problem, is one of several legislators who still find
fault with the bill.
"It's still something we can't sign off on," said one of Dodd's staffers
last week. "It still has caps."
McCain asked for and received consent by the Senate to continue debate on
the bill later today.