U.S. Sen. Paul S. Trible (R-Va.) has withdrawn an intensely controversial measure that would have protected A.H. Robins Co., the Richmond-based maker of the Dalkon Shield intrauterine contraceptive device, from millions of dollars in punitive damage claims, an aide said yesterday.
While he continues to support the need for reform in the area of product liability, Trible said in a letter to Sen. Robert W. Kasten (R-Wis.) that he would not renew his controversial amendment because of questions "as to whether or not these provisions would adequately punish corporate misconduct."
Trible had received harsh criticism on Capitol Hill this year for the amendment he offered at the request of Robins, one of Virginia's largest employers, which is embroiled in thousands of costly lawsuits over the Dalkon Shield. The measure would have drastically reduced the company's liability from punitive damages, which are awarded by the courts to punish negligence and wrongdoing. Robins is facing about 3,600 claims and has already paid out more than $233 million in another 7,600 lawsuits involving the Dalkon Shield.
In the last weeks of the 98th Congress, Trible quietly withdrew the amendment because he feared it may keep the product liability bill to which it was attached from passage by the Senate, according to Trible press secretary John C. Miller. The bill, which had been passed by the Commerce Committee, did not come up for action before the Senate adjourned last month.
Trible, who was not available for comment yesterday, last week asked Kasten, sponsor of the bill, to eliminate the amendment should Kasten reintroduce his bill next session.
The measure would have made Robins and other U.S. companies liable for punitive damages to only the first individual to file a successful lawsuit over a defective product. Trible had defended it as a means of punishing corporations for defective products without causing them to go into bankruptcy as a result of multiple claims against them. But opponents had said the amendment would let companies off the hook without sufficient punishment.
"He made a serious attempt at solving a problem," Miller said of Trible.
"He offered the amendment as a vehicle for discussion and it certainly has generated a good deal of discussion. The need for reform still exists," Miller added.
Nancy Drabble, director of the nonprofit public interest group Congresswatch, said previously that Trible's amendment would encourage companies "to put profit ahead of safety. . . . Robins claims punitive damages are unfair to them. But [the Dalkon Shield] wasn't fair to women who had to have miscarriages, who are sterile now, and who suffered pelvic inflammations."