Ryan Votes to Prevent Reckless Lawsuits Against Firearms, Food Service Businesses

Press Release

By:  Paul Ryan
Date: Oct. 20, 2005
Location: Washington, DC


Ryan Votes to Prevent Reckless Lawsuits Against Firearms, Food Service Businesses

This week the U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation to defend a common-sense foundation of individual responsibility in our nation's legal system, by preventing frivolous lawsuits targeting the firearms and food service industries. Wisconsin's First District Congressman Paul Ryan voted in favor of both measures, which would rein in civil liability actions that wrongly place blame on manufacturers or sellers for the actions of those who misuse their products.

By a bipartisan vote of 306-120, the House on Wednesday approved H.R. 554, the Personal Responsibility in Food Consumption Act, (commonly referred to as the "cheeseburger bill,") which would generally prohibit weight gain-related or obesity-related lawsuits from being brought in federal or state courts against the food industry. This legislation still awaits Senate action.

In addition, the House today passed S. 397, the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, by a bipartisan tally of 283-144 to provide protections for those in the firearms industry from lawsuits arising out of the acts of people who criminally or unlawfully misuse their products. To expedite the legislation becoming law, the House chose to pass the Senate-passed version of this measure, rather than moving forward with its own version of the legislation - H.R. 800, of which Congressman Ryan was a cosponsor. The next step is for the President to sign S. 397 into law.

"Wisconsinites know it isn't right to sue a restaurant simply because of the choices made by its customers, or to sue a responsible gun shop owner if someone uses a gun bought there to commit a crime. While these kinds of lawsuits may seem like a joke, they have the potential to hurt small businesses and cost jobs, as employers have to shell out legal fees to defend themselves from ridiculous charges," Ryan said. "We're trying to reinforce an age-old, common-sense standard of law and discourage abuses of our legal system that can hurt upstanding businesses."

The Personal Responsibility in Food Consumption Act would generally prohibit obesity-related or weight gain-related lawsuits (including class-action lawsuits) against manufacturers, marketers, distributors, advertisers, or sellers of food or non-alcoholic beverage products that comply with statutory and regulatory requirements. Under certain circumstances, however, this legislation would permit obesity-related claims to go forward, including cases in which a state or federal law was broken and as a result a person gained weight. For example, an obesity-related claim could go forward if a company, in violation of a labeling law, labels a food as containing "zero calories" when in fact it has thousands of calories.

Furthermore, H.R. 554 would not prevent lawsuits unrelated to weight-gain or obesity, such as a lawsuit where someone gets sick from a tainted hamburger.

The other measure, S. 397, the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, would prohibit civil liability actions from being brought or continued in any state or federal court against interstate manufacturers, distributors, dealers, or importers of firearms or ammunition for damages resulting from the criminal or otherwise unlawful misuse of their products. This would help prevent lawful firearms industry participants from being bankrupted in court and preserve citizens' access to firearms and ammunition for all lawful purposes, including hunting, self-defense, collecting, and competitive or recreational shooting.

S. 397 would explicitly NOT prohibit (thus would still allow):

* an action brought by a harmed person against someone who intentionally transferred a firearm knowing that it would be used in a violent or drug-trafficking crime;

* an action brought against a seller for negligence or negligent entrustment (the selling of a firearm when the seller knows or should know that the buyer is likely to [and does] use the product in a manner involving unreasonable risk of physical injury to himself and others);

* an action in which a manufacturer or seller of a product knowingly and willfully violated a state or federal statute applicable to the sale or marketing of the product, and the violation was a proximate cause of the harm for which relief is sought;

* an action for breach of contract or warranty in connection with the purchase of the product; or

* an action for physical injuries or property damage resulting directly from a defect in design or manufacture of the product, when used as intended.

Additionally, S. 397 would make it unlawful for any licensed importer, manufacturer, or dealer to sell, deliver, or transfer any handgun (not long guns) to any person, unless the transferee is provided with a secure gun storage or safety device for that handgun. The bill would exempt government, law enforcement, and relic firearms from this provision.