The Senate Commerce Committee yesterday rejected a measure that consumer groups said would have made it more difficult to win product liability claims.

Backed by nearly all of the nation's major manufacturers, as well as the insurance industry, the bill would preempt state laws and provide federal standards to determine product liability.

Consumer groups argued that the measure would give industry a product liability shield by imposing a greater burden of proof on consumers and by making it more difficult for them to get information from manufacturers.

Sen. Ernest Hollings (D-S.C.) led the Senate fight against the measure, calling it simply "a bad bill."

Supporters argued the measure would replace what they described as a chaotic patchwork of various state laws with a more even-handed federal system.

For the past two years, the Senate Commerce Committee has sent the measure to the full chamber, where it died without coming up for a vote. Yesterday, the panel refused to report the bill out on an 8-to-8 vote.

"Consumers should rejoice," said Joan Claybrook, head of Public Citizen, a Ralph Nader-founded umbrella organization that represents more than a dozen advocacy groups.

A spokesman for Sen. Bob Kasten (R-Wis.), who has been pushing the measure for five years, said the senator will likely try to bring it before the Senate Commerce Committee again later this year.