Pre-emption debate in Chicago Tribune

I’m quoted by Amanda Erickson in today’s Chicago Tribune:

But federal agencies and industry groups say lawsuits are out of control. More punitive damage verdicts of more than $100 million have been issued in the past 10 years than in the rest of U.S. history, said Ted Frank, a fellow at the conservative American Enterprise Institute.

He added that liability-happy lawyers have put companies and designers in a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” situation. For example, he says, adding more weight to a car’s roof can protect riders in a rollover, but it also makes the car more likely to tip in the first place.

An earlier version of the story on-line goes on to quote me about the hindsight bias juries exhibit when judging design decisions.

I wasn’t, but would have liked to have been, quoted disputing the claim made in the story that preemption is unique to the current Bush administration. Not so: the Bush I and Clinton administrations also recognized the importance of preemption. We’re just seeing the issue much more these days because trial lawyers have engaged in a campaign of unprecedented scope to hold manufacturers liable for meeting federal standards.

NB how I am incorrectly identified as an “industry group”, and that I am identified as belonging to a “conservative” think-tank, though no one else gets a political descriptor. Indeed, Public Citizen is identified as a neutral “consumer advocate” rather than as a leftist group funded by trial lawyers–even though it opposes and I am the one who supports a policy that promotes consumer safety and lower prices.

Update, July 1: I got the paper to print a correction: “An article in the main news section Sunday incorrectly suggested that the American Enterprise Institute is an industry group. AEI is a Washington-based think tank.”


  • I am identified as belonging to a “conservative” think-tank, though no one else gets a political descriptor.

    That’s easy to answer, Ted. Since everyone knows only conservatives are biased, they feel that it is their duty to warn us in advance so we know not to believe anything you said.

  • The basic problem is that almost nobody processes information as such. Mr. Frank’s statement about the weight of car roofs is straight forward and easy to understand. One must balance the added risk of a rollover against the possibility of roof collapse given a rollover. This is an engineering matter that has been given to average people who weigh credibility only. Those representing the little guy are preferred to those who represent rapacious profit seeking corporations.

    It especially galls me that Ralph Nader, who spoiled the 2000 election, is always credited with his wonderful work for consumer safety and justice. The breast implant
    fiasco showed Nader to be a scoundrel. I know of no matter where Nader was positive. NONE!

  • It’s worth noting that adding weight to the roof of a car adds very little protection in the event of a rollover: there are very few rollovers where the forces are strong enough to crush the “weaker” roof but not the “stronger” roof, and even in those, there are often other far more important factors contributing to the injuries of the driver and passengers.

  • Heh. “Suggested” AEI was an industry group. I guess explicit statements tend to be pretty “suggestive” these days.