The Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday approved by a 9-to-5 vote a bill permitting consumers, businesses and governments injured by antitrust violations to sue for damages whether or not they dealt directly with the antritrust violator.
The measure, introduced by Antitrust and Monopoly Subcommittee Chairman Edward M. Kennedy (D. Mass), would overturn an 1977 Supreme Court decision which held that only the direct purchasers of a product may sue under the antitrust laws for damages.
Proponents of the measure, including the administration, contend that the court ruling deprives many consumers of a remedy for their injury while allowing the first of "direct" purchaser to recover the entire amount of an overchange even though he may have passed most or all of the overchange on to others.
Kennedy said yesterday the committee action indicates that Congress intends to restore to indirect parties their opportunity to prove that they were damaged because of antitrust violations, but he warned: "Over $400 million of damages in pending cases will be lost just to the federal and state governments if this legislation does not pass soon."
A similar measure was approved by the House Monopolies Subcommittee in early April and is still awaiting mark-up by the full Judiciary Commit.
The Senate version approved yesterday eliminates a proviso contained in the subcommittee bill which would not have authorized class actions on behalf of individuals who did not deal directly with intitrust violators, thus allowing them to go to court only through their state attnorneys general.
The bill would be retroactive to June 9, 1977, the day of the Supreme Court decision.