Innocent seller bill could protect small business from unfair lawsuits

The state Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday is scheduled to consider legislation that advocates believe will improve the state’s civil justice system and reduce expensive litigation.

The bill, SB 1092, sponsored by Sen. Vince Leach, R-SaddleBrooke, seeks to put limits on product liability lawsuits brought against product sellers who find themselves the target of aggressive trial lawyers despite not having made any alterations to a product or doing anything else that could have caused an injury to the plaintiff.

The bill has the backing of the Arizona chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business.

“Product liability lawsuits really should be limited to manufacturers and those parties who have actively contributed to the design and production of the product,” NFIB Arizona President Chad Heinrich said. “Unfortunately, the trial bar takes a much more expansive view and attempts to draw sellers into lawsuits even when the seller did nothing more than place the product on the store shelf.”

A similar bill was introduced in the 2020 legislative session, but ultimately did not reach the governor’s desk after the session was cut short due to the pandemic.

Several business groups, including the Arizona Retailers Association, joined NFIB in supporting that bill, but it faced opposition from the Arizona Trial Lawyers Association, the state’s plaintiffs bar advocacy group. The same groups have lined up in support and opposition to this year’s legislation.

Twenty States have adopted innocent seller statutes, from all parts of the country and varying political make-up such as Washington, Delaware, Minnesota, and New Jersey. 

“Arizona has an outstanding civil justice environment, and lawmakers have done an excellent job in adopting policies that reduce expensive, time-consuming, and unfair lawsuits,” Heinrich said. “But there’s always room for improvement. Just as other states have done, Arizona should pass a law that prevents innocent retailers from getting dragged into lawsuits that they shouldn’t be involved in.”

Stephen Matter

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